MODESTO — Testimony given Tuesday in a preliminary hearing revealed one of two defendants charged with murder was involved in a confrontation with a group of men outside a north Modesto cigarette store not long before two teenagers were shot in front of a nearby apartment complex.
Robbie Blackwell, the defendant in the double-homicide case, left the cigarette store before the confrontation with seven other males escalated. The seven men also left, walking to the apartment complex about a block east of Coffee Road.
Ruben Moreno testified that he and six others, who were standing outside the store, had just arrived at the apartment complex when gunfire erupted. His younger brother, Rolando Luna, 15, and their friend Andrew Ensey, 19, were killed in that shooting about 9:15 p.m. Feb. 10, 2012.
Moreno ducked when he first heard the gunfire, but then lifted his head to see what was happening. He testified that shots were fired from the back seat of a white car that was moving slowly in front of the apartment complex.
He said car's lights were off and he couldn't see inside the car, but Moreno spotted "the blue flame coming out of the (gun) barrel."
Blackwell, 21, of Modesto, and Nicholas Spangler, 27, of Ceres are accused of murder in the deaths of Luna and Andrew Ensey. Their preliminary hearing began Tuesday and was expected to continue today. They remain in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail.
Before Tuesday's testimony began, the attorneys stipulated that Luna died from gunshot wounds in his head and chest, and that Ensey died from a gunshot in his back.
Modesto police officer David Mullins testified that he arrived at the crime scene and found Luna and Ensey injured on the ground in a carport at the apartment complex. Luna was pronounced dead at the scene and Ensey died at a hospital.
Mullins said they found a fixed-blade knife on the ground about 3 feet away from Luna's right arm. He testified that Luna was wearing a white T-shirt, and Ensey was wearing a red Oakland A's baseball cap, a red shirt, red pants and a red belt with a buckle that had "14" on it.
The Norteño street gang identifies itself with the color red and the number 14.
On the night of the shooting, Kathleen Sanchez lived in the apartment complex in the 2400 block of Vera Cruz Drive near Floyd Avenue and about a block east of the Coffee Plaza shopping center. Luna and his family lived in the same complex.
She testified Tuesday that she spotted a white car with at least two people inside stop in the street in front of her home before the shooting. Sanchez said she saw Blackwell was a passenger.
A short while later, she heard about nine to 10 shots. Before the gunfire ended, Sanchez testified that she went to her apartment's front window and spotted the same white car she saw before. She couldn't see inside the car, but she spotted an arm holding what appeared to be a handgun sticking out of a passenger side window.
Sanchez testified that the car was moving slowly as the shots were being fired.
During cross-examination, Sanchez said that she initially told investigators that the two males she saw in the white car were Latino men. With Blackwell and Spangler sitting several feet away from her in court, Sanchez acknowledged that they are not Latino.
Ex-girlfriend on stand
Melanie Martin, Blackwell's ex-girlfriend, testified about the confrontation outside the cigarette store. She said she stayed in her car while Blackwell got out, was confronted by a group of males and punched in the face.
Blackwell's father then arrived, and they drove away to the gas station in the same shopping center. They drove back to Blackwell's home, a few blocks southwest of the shopping center.
Blackwell, his father and Spangler later left the home, while Martin stayed there with Blackwell's mother and another woman, listening to a police radio scanner feed on a cell- phone.
She later heard what sounded like gun shots followed by police sirens, then a report of a "187" (police code for a homicide) on the scanner.
Authorities have obtained a transcript of text messages believed to have been sent from Martin to one of her friends on the night of the shooting. She testified she did not remember whether she wrote everything in the transcript, which was submitted as evidence.
Some of the text messages read in court: "I'm freaking out and Robbie's mom won't let me leave. There's been a shooting and she's trying to keep me quiet. Cops are chasing Robbie and his dad in a white Lexus."
There has been no indication that Blackwell's father was involved in the shooting.
Though Martin insisted she doesn't remember writing the text messages, the prosecution and defense stipulated that she did.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.