MODESTO — A judge on Thursday determined that three defendants must stand trial accused of murder in the stabbing of a teenager who was killed during a botched robbery at an east Modesto park.
Taylor Koplen, 18, Jacob Segura, 19, and Juan Garcia, 16, are charged with murder in the death of 18-year-old Tylor Crippen. They also face charges of robbery and two counts of attempted robbery, along with enhancements of committing the crimes for the benefit of the Norteño street gang.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Dawna Reeves scheduled the defendants, who remain in custody, to return to court Aug. 22 for an arraignment hearing. Garcia and Koplen, both minors when the stabbing occurred, are being prosecuted as adults.
Before the judge's ruling concluded the defendants' preliminary hearing Thursday afternoon, the attorneys gave their closing arguments.
Mark Sullivan, Segura's attorney, argued that there was insufficient evidence indicating the alleged crimes were committed for the benefit of the gang. He said the prosecution's gang expert provided generalized testimony about gang activity at the park.
Testimony from another detective indicated that witnesses didn't hear gang slogans or see the suspects flash gang signs during two attacks allegedly committed by the defendants within minutes of each other at Creekwood Park.
Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira argued that the defendants' deliberate conduct shows their intent was to "exercise their power of fear and control" on nearby residents and people in the park. She said the gang expert determined the defendants are Norteño gang members based on numerous incidents involving them.
The prosecutor said the gang expert reviewed other robberies and assaults at the park that show the location is dominated by the street gang, with gang graffiti seen there. She said the suspects in this case didn't have to yell out gang slogans to indicate the crimes were done for the gang.
"The writing is on the wall. Or should I say, the writing is all over the park on the night of the murder," Ferreira argued. "They don't have to yell out 'Norte.' "
Testimony from a detective indicated that Segura said co-defendant Koplen stabbed Crippen and picked his pockets as the injured victim laid on the ground.
Martin Baker, Koplen's attorney, argued that there was a lot of conjecture about whether Segura was telling the truth. "I can say Mr. Segura's a liar and his statements are self-serving, but maybe that should be left for another day," Baker told the judge.
Before Crippen was stabbed, a 17-year-old boy was assaulted at the park after a dispute over his girlfriend, who was with the three defendants drinking beer. Testimony indicated he lost his cell phone and pocketknife as the defendants kicked and stomped him.
Authorities allege Koplen took the victim's phone and used the knife to stab Crippen in the second park attack.
Baker argued that the evidence shows the two acts were done for reasons other than to promote the street gang. The first incident was a fight over a girl, he said, and the second was an assault or robbery that escalated out of hand.
The prosecutor argued that the defendants' actions were deliberate and their plan was to subdue Crippen and his girlfriend. Ferreira said one of defendants first asked the couple for a cigarette as the two other defendants flanked them. She said the defendants chased Crippen into the park as he screamed at them to leave his girlfriend alone.
Attorney argues no intent
Alonzo Gradford, Garcia's attorney, argued there was no evidence Garcia tried to rob Crippen's girlfriend. He told the judge there was no intent to rob the 17-year-old before the assault, so the robbery charge should be a lesser charge of theft.
Reeves disagreed, telling the attorneys the evidence shows the defendants acted together in both incidents. She said the intent to commit robbery can be formed before using force against the victim or during an attack.
The judge determined there was enough evidence for the defendants to stand trial with the gang enhancements on all charges, which could lengthen a prison sentence if convicted.