A defense attorney on Friday told a jury that his client was not part of a group of gang members that committed a 2010 Modesto home-invasion robbery, which led to the death of one man, and that the credible evidence presented at the trial supports his innocence.
Angel Del Villar was not among the suspects captured shortly after the robbery and a crosstown police pursuit that ended in the Parklawn Avenue area of south Modesto. He was taken into custody a few months later after authorities implicated him in the robbery.
In his closing argument, Mark Sullivan said initial statements by some of the suspects apprehended after the chase indicated there were five people in the robbery. He said they changed their stories later to fit the prosecution's theory and receive plea deals.
"That's just not believable, that's not credible," Sullivan told the jurors. "How can you convict someone with this junk."
Jaime Cerpa, Phillip Lopez, Hector Rocha Jr. and Del Villar are on trial facing murder and robbery charges. They are alleged to have committed the robbery at the home in the 600 block of Thrasher Avenue in Modesto's airport neighborhood.
Testimony has indicated that the robbery was planned and carried out by a regiment of the Norteño street gang, and the robbers were searching for drugs and cash in what was believed to be a drug house. The drug dealers had moved out, and there was no cash or drugs.
Three people, including Julio Jimenez, arrived at the home at the same time the robbers did. They, like the robbers, mistakenly believed drugs were still sold at the house, the prosecutor has said.
The botched robbery became deadly when Domingo Becerra fired three shots into Jimenez's back as he pleaded for mercy. In exchange for a sentence of 25 years to life in prison, Becerra testified against his accused robbery accomplices.
After his capture, Becerra quickly provided investigators incriminating information about the robbery. He also led them to the guns believed to have been used in the robbery.
In the trial, the prosecutor asked him why he never mentioned Del Villar's name in the robbery until he testified before a criminal grand jury. Becerra answered, "Umm, I didn't recognize him ... I wasn't too sure."
Sullivan pointed to Becerra's statements as reasonable testimony that should keep the jury from convicting his client on any of the charges.
"He didn't do it. He wasn't there," Sullivan said about Del Villar.
Testimony has indicated that all the suspects who sped away in a Jeep were armed. Becerra testified that they threw out their guns as police chased them to south Modesto.
Rocha, who has not received a plea deal from prosecutors, testified he and Del Villar jumped through a window into the home. There, the two gunmen confronted the resident, who had no clue what they were looking for, Rocha testified.
Rocha also told the jury that Del Villar was armed with a chrome revolver, but Sullivan argued the gun never was found after extensive searches. The defense attorney said Rocha perjured himself on the witness stand to direct the blame toward others.
Sullivan argued that Rocha weakly speculated Del Villar got rid of his gun during the "leg bail," which is police lingo for running away from officers. He suggested that Rocha came up with his theory after reading police reports.
Several patrol cars chased the Jeep into south Modesto while other officers set up a spike strip and deflated the vehicle's tires. Sullivan told the jury that the Jeep stopped and a deputy who flashed a spotlight on the vehicle informed dispatchers that four or five people were seen jumping over a nearby fence.
"Again, not five or six, four or five," Sullivan argued.
He said the prosecution has a theory that Del Villar hid in a laundry room, burying himself in dirty laundry to avoid police dogs conducting a search. Sullivan told the jury that is just a theory and there is no evidence to support it.
Closing arguments in the trial are expected to continue Tuesday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.