Judge postpones preliminary hearing in deadly north Modesto shooting

01/15/2014 3:28 PM

01/15/2014 8:26 PM

A judge on Wednesday postponed a preliminary hearing for three defendants accused of murder in a north Modesto shooting possibly motivated by drugs.

Authorities say Lamar Oldham, 23; Isaiah Stafford, 17; and Luisa Riley, 17, are responsible in the deadly Dec. 11 shooting of Damian Villavicencio. The 19-year-old Riverbank man was shot behind Velvet Grill & Creamery restaurant on McHenry Avenue.

Maureen Keller, Oldham’s defense attorney, told the judge that she needs more time to obtain and review discovery evidence provided by the prosecution before proceeding with the preliminary hearing, which was scheduled to start this week. She also told the judge it is highly unlikely that she could be ready to move forward in the next few months, considering the nature of the case.

Prosecutors have filed a special circumstance allegation with the murder charges against Oldham and Stafford, which makes Oldham eligible for the death penalty if the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office decides to pursue it and if he’s convicted as charged.

Stafford does not qualify for the death penalty because he is a minor; he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. If Stafford is convicted as charged, the judge has discretion to sentence him to 25 years to life in prison with a chance at parole.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova scheduled a pretrial hearing Feb. 21, when he may reschedule the preliminary hearing. It’s unclear when the hearing will start or whether the defendants will be prosecuted together.

Riley has refused to waive her right to a preliminary hearing within 60 days, while the other defendants seem to want more time to plan their defense.

Stafford and Riley are being prosecuted as adults. The three defendants also face charges of attempted murder and attempted robbery in connection with the shooting.

Another 19-year-old Riverbank man was with Villavicencio when, witnesses say, they stumbled into the nearby McDonald’s, bleeding and saying they had been shot. The other man survived the shooting.

Investigators have said the shooting appeared to have been motivated by drugs, specifically marijuana. A man who tried to revive Villavicencio said the victim was holding what looked like marijuana when he came into the restaurant.

Bruce Perry, Riley’s defense attorney, asked the judge to reduce his client’s bail from $1.25 million because of her lack of a criminal record.

Perry said in court that the prosecution thinks his client knew there was going to be a robbery of the marijuana, but said she thought the marijuana was going to be purchased with a line of credit. The defense attorney also told the judge his client was not armed with a handgun during the incident.

Prosecutors have added gun enhancements on Riley’s charges in connection with the shooting and the attempted robbery, according to a criminal complaint filed Dec 13. Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley on Wednesday explained that because Riley is considered a principle in the crimes, the law allows prosecutors to charge her with the gun enhancements.

Oldham and Stafford face enhancements of using a gun in the incident. Prosecutors allege the men committed murder during an attempted robbery and were lying in wait for the victim. If convicted, the enhancements could lengthen the defendants’ prison sentences.

Córdova reduced Riley’s bail to $510,000, agreeing with Deputy District Attorney Brad Nix that the lower bail amount was acceptable under the circumstances.

Perry told the judge it’s likely his client still can’t afford to post bail, but he considered the bail reduction to be a step in the right direction.

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