Federal officer will stand trial in shooting of co-worker in Modesto

09/24/2013 7:46 PM

09/25/2013 6:20 AM

A judge on Tuesday said a Hollister man must stand trial on charges of murder and attempted murder in a shooting last year outside a north Modesto bar where his fellow federal officer was fatally wounded.

Authorities say off-duty federal officer Robert Anthony Moreno fired a gun during a fight and inadvertently shot and killed his co-worker, Daryl Chargualaf.

The federal officers were involved in a confrontation with Billy and Andrew Diaz on July 22, 2012, outside O’Malley’s Bar in the parking lot of the shopping center at Standiford Avenue and Prescott Road. Testimony indicated the dispute started inside the bar after Andrew Diaz bumped a table and all four men were kicked out.

In his ruling, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova said it’s clear Moreno did not intend to kill Chargualaf, his co-worker and one of his closest friends. The judge, however, determined that Moreno’s actions resulted in Chargualaf’s death.

“Taking a gun to a bar is rarely a good idea,” Córdova said in court.

He also said Moreno was an officer trained to use guns, but he fired at close range into a group that was fighting, and there was no evidence Moreno fired a warning shot into the air.

The judge ordered Moreno, 30, to stand trial charged with murder and two counts each of attempted murder and assault with a semiautomatic gun. The defendant was scheduled to return to court Oct. 17 for an arraignment hearing.

He remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail; his bail is set at $2.9 million. John Garcia, Moreno’s attorney, asked the judge to review his client’s bail amount at the Oct. 17 hearing.

Before the judge’s ruling Tuesday morning, the attorneys gave their closing arguments in Moreno’s preliminary hearing.

The defense attorney challenged the credibility of the some of the witnesses who testified for the prosecution.

Garcia said Valentin Ceniceros, the only witness who wasn’t involved in the confrontation and saw the shooting, gave varying accounts to investigators before he testified. He also said Ceniceros wasn’t able to identify the federal officers or the Diaz brothers in photo lineups.

Deputy District Attorney Jeff Laugero argued that the evidence and testimony clearly show that Moreno fired the gun multiple times at close range, ultimately killing Chargualaf and seriously wounding Billy Diaz, who suffered a gunshot wound in his upper shoulder near his neck.

“He wasn’t shooting to wound, he was shooting to kill,” the prosecutor said about Moreno. “That’s not an accident. That’s not a lucky shot.”

Ceniceros testified that he saw the shooter take a few steps back, reach into the back of his waistband and pull out a gun before stepping forward a few steps and firing in the direction of three men fighting on the ground.

The witness also testified that he saw an injured man walk up to his vehicle and ask for a ride after the shooting.

Garcia argued that testimony from other witnesses, including the Diaz brothers, never indicated that anyone injured in the confrontation walked away from the shooting scene. The defense attorney said either Ceniceros’ testimony is wrong or testimony from the Diaz brothers is wrong.

The fight started in front of the nearby Liquor Locker Inc. business, Garcia said in court, and the testimony indicated that the fight moved east toward the Fluff and Fold Laundromat, far away from the Diaz brothers’ parked vehicles. The defense attorney suggested that the Diaz brothers followed the off-duty federal officers out of the bar with the intent to start a fight.

He also questioned the Diaz brothers’ claim that nobody, not even Moreno and Chargualaf, said anything in the parking lot moments before the fight started. Garcia said the fight was like a “silent movie,” if you believe the Diaz brothers.

Ceniceros testified that he could clearly see the men in the confrontation were arguing and yelling at each other, but he couldn’t hear what they were saying. Garcia told the judge that maybe Moreno did announce some commands before he opened fire.

The prosecutor argued that security camera footage shows the fight lasted less than two minutes and that Moreno quickly decided to pull out his gun and fire. Laugero said the footage doesn’t support a defense theory of a long, drawn-out struggle and that Moreno, who was not injured in the fight, was trying to defend himself or Chargualaf.

Córdova told the attorneys that inconsistent testimony in the preliminary hearing came from some of the witnesses who had been drinking alcohol that night.

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