Witnesses reported seeing Tylor Crippen and his girlfriend “embraced in a kiss” just before they were accosted by three men in an east Modesto park Jan. 29, 2013.
The trial for the men accused of murdering Crippen began Tuesday in Stanislaus Superior Court.
During opening statements, Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira said Crippen, 18, and his girlfriend, Brittany Waldo, went for a walk at Creekwood Park that evening, unaware of the violence that had taken place there minutes before.
Ferreira told the jury that the evidence would prove that the defendants – Taylor Koplen, 19; Jacob Segura, 20; and Juan Garcia, 17 – had been kicked out of the park earlier in the day and later returned drunk with two sisters.
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One of the girls called her boyfriend, Alex Salazar, to pick them up. When Salazar arrived, Ferreira said, all three defendants assaulted him. Ferreira said they kicked and punched Salazar as he lay in the fetal position on the ground and robbed him of his cellphone and the knife that subsequently was use to stab Crippen three times in the chest.
About eight minutes later, the three men approached Crippen and Waldo, and one, identified by Ferreira as Koplen, pulled out a knife and told them to empty their pockets, the prosecution said.
Ferreira said Koplen punched the 5-foot-4-inch, 115-pound Crippen in the back. Crippen began running through the park and the two other defendants ran after him, followed by Koplen, Ferreira said.
During a frantic 911 call by Waldo moments later, which was played in court, she tells the dispatcher that one of the men had said to her, “Go the f--- back inside your house, b----.”
“They have a knife and they punched my boyfriend in the back – they have a knife and threatened to stab him,” Waldo’s voice trembles in the recording. Sitting in the courtroom audience, Crippen’s family members wiped tears from their eyes as they listened.
Waldo wasn’t at her house, but at that of a resident who lived across the street from the park. She had run to and knocked on the doors of three homes before the woman at the fourth home answered and let her inside.
“As she’s going from house to house to house, she can hear Tylor screaming in the park,” Ferreira said.
But she did not see him, argued Koplen’s defense attorney Martin Baker.
During his opening statements, Baker told the jury that the evidence will not prove beyond a reasonable doubt the prosecution’s assertion that it was his client who was holding the knife.
He said Waldo could not identify any of the defendants in a photo lineup. She told officers that the man with the knife was the tallest of the three, had long hair and wore a gray and red plaid shirt.
While his hair since has been cut short, Koplen had shoulder-length hair at the time of his arrest. But it was Segura who was wearing a red and gray plaid shirt that night, Baker said.
Segura’s attorney Mark Sullivan said there is no question that Koplen was the perpetrator.
“Taylor Koplen alone had a knife; Taylor Koplen alone killed Tylor Crippen,” he told the jury.
Crippen’s blood was found on Koplen’s hands and shoes and on Garcia’s pants and shoes, Ferreira said.
But none was found on Segura, Sullivan said.
“My client Jacob Segura, in fact, tried to stop Taylor Koplen from his fatal attack on Tylor Crippen,” he said. “My client did not have the specific intent to kill or rob Tylor Crippen.”
Sullivan said Segura cooperated with Modesto police after the stabbing and identified Koplen and Garcia. As a result, he was assaulted inside the Stanislaus County Jail by another inmate, who called him a “snitch,” Sullivan said
Garcia’s attorney simply asked the jury to reserve judgment against his client until all the evidence is heard.
The defendants are being charged with murder, robbery and attempted robbery, along with an enhancement of committing the crimes for the benefit of a the Norteño street gang.
The defense counsel argued that none of the men displayed gang signs or made gang slurs during the incident.
“Not everything a gang member does is gang-related,” Baker said. He said the fight with Salazar was not gang-related but “a bunch of drunk hooligans fighting over a girl.”
He used the same argument for the robbery charge associated with taking Salazar’s knife. The intent to rob was not there, he said. The knife fell out of Salazar’s pocket during the fight. It was picked up and taken, so it was a theft, not a robbery, he said.
The trial will continue today in Department 1 with testimony from witnesses to the attack on Salazar.