MODESTO — A detective on Wednesday testified that one of three defendants charged with murder admitted that he was involved in a violent struggle with a teenager who was stabbed to death during a robbery attempt in an east Modesto park.
Authorities say Taylor Koplen, 18; Jacob Segura, 19; and Juan Garcia, 16, tried to rob Tylor Crippen at Creekwood Park about 8:30 p.m. Jan. 29. Crippen, 18, was trying to escape through the park when he was stabbed to death.
Detective Phillip Weber questioned Garcia, who had cuts on the top of his knuckles and dried blood between two fingers on his left hand. The detective said a sample of the dried blood was collected as evidence, and the cuts on Garcia's hands were photographed.
He testified that Garcia appeared surprised when he learned that Crippen had died from his injuries. At one point during the police interview that was recorded on video, Weber said Garcia started crying.
"He said that he never meant for this to happen and to apologize to the victim's family," Weber said about Garcia.
A preliminary hearing for defendants Koplen, Segura and Garcia continued Wednesday with testimony from investigators and a criminalist who analyzed DNA samples.
During a March pretrial hearing, Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira said Koplen stabbed Crippen during the botched robbery.
Martin Baker, Koplen's defense attorney, has said in court that the allegations regarding who stabbed the victim were based on "self-serving statements" made by his client's co-defendants.
A criminalist from the state Department of Justice testified that blood found on the right thigh of Koplen's jeans and some of the blood on his hands came from Crippen.
A blood stain on the right leg of Garcia's jeans and blood on his left hand came from another robbery victim, who was assaulted at the same park before Crippen was stabbed. Authorities said they believe the defendants stole a pocketknife from that victim and used it to stab Crippen.
The criminalist also testified that traces of DNA found on the 2½-inch knife blade came from Crippen. She said there were not enough traces of DNA on the knife handle to determine who handled it.
Most of Wednesday's testimony focused on what Garcia and Crippen's girlfriend told investigators.
Weber testified that Garcia said he and his friends were just trying to get some stuff from Crippen his cell phone.
When the detective told Garcia that Crippen's family just wanted to know what had happened to him, Garcia responded, "All over a cell phone and a little bit of money that he probably didn't have," according to Weber.
Suspect's story changes
Weber testified that Garcia initially said he was not at the park, before changing his story and telling the detective he was at the park alone. Soon after, Garcia admitted he was at the park with Koplen and Segura, drinking beer, according to the detective.
Garcia told the detective he didn't know Crippen had been stabbed. He told Weber they were leaving the park when they encountered Crippen, who was just standing there. When Crippen was confronted, he ran away.
Weber testified that Garcia said they chased Crippen and fought with him in the park. Garcia wouldn't specifically tell the detective who was with him when they fought with Crippen. "He was afraid about being labeled a snitch," Weber said about Garcia.
Garcia told the detective he punched Crippen but wouldn't say who punched the victim first. Garcia said they "just beat his a--" and he had to pull his two friends off Crippen because they were getting "too rough."
From there, Garcia said they left the park and walked toward Johansen High School. He told the detective he was with Koplen and Se-gura underneath the walkway overpass on the west side of Claus Road when they decided to separate. Garcia said he and Koplen left together, while Segura went off on his own.
Shortly after, Garcia said he and Koplen spotted Se-gura being taken into custody by a police officer, according to Weber. Garcia and Koplen were arrested later at their homes.
Investigators later put Garcia and Koplen in the same police interview room, which was being videotaped. Weber testified that the defendants spoke about getting caught, and that the police knew everything that happened.
Garcia told Koplen that investigators got their information from Segura, according to Weber.
Modesto police Detective Gary Guffey also testified in the preliminary hearing Wednesday. He questioned Crippen's girlfriend, who was with her boyfriend before they were approached by the attackers. "She was shaken, you can tell she had been crying," Guffey said on the witness stand.
He said the couple had watched a movie at his home before they decided to go for a walk. They walked around nearby Hughes Elementary School before they spotted a male and a female at the park who appeared drunk.
Garcia told Weber that the female was Koplen's girlfriend.
Crippen and his girlfriend walked around the park until they reached a bus stop on Ardia Avenue on the north end of the park. They spotted two other males on the park's playground. One of the males approached Crippen and his girlfriend and asked for a cigarette.
Guffey testified that Crippen's girlfriend said the male then punched her boyfriend in the back. Crippen then ran away, first across the street, then back through the park.
Boyfriend chased into park
The person who first punched Crippen then brandished a knife, and Crippen's girlfriend said she didn't have anything to steal. She told the detective all three male suspects chased her boyfriend into the park.
She ran to the nearest house with lights on, looking for help. She told the detective she could hear Crippen screaming her name in pain. Then she said she spotted the suspects leaving the park.
She told Guffey the suspects yelled at her to get back in the house before they headed east toward Creekwood Drive, when a woman opened the door and let her enter to call 911.
In a photo lineup hours after the stabbing, Crippen's girlfriend could not identify the people who attacked her boyfriend, according to Guffey. During cross-examination, the detective said Koplen was in the photo lineup, but Crippen's girlfriend didn't identify him.
Testimony in the preliminary hearing continues today in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeeCourts.