A judge on Wednesday ordered two men to stand trial charged with murder in connection with a botched marijuana robbery that resulted in the death of a 19-year-old Riverbank man.
Damian Villavicencio was hit by gunfire about 5:30 p.m. Dec. 11, 2013, during what was supposed to be a drug deal behind the Velvet Grill & Creamery restaurant on McHenry Avenue in north Modesto. The bullet entered his back and moved up his body, tearing through two ribs and his left lung before exiting.
Authorities say Lamar Oldham and Isaiah Stafford are responsible for Villavicencio’s death. A third defendant in the case, Luisa Riley, also is charged with murder. She is being prosecuted separately and remains free on her own recognizance.
Another 19-year-old Riverbank man was with Villavicencio when they stumbled into the nearby McDonald’s, bleeding and saying they had been shot, witnesses told police. The other man survived the shooting.
A preliminary hearing for Oldham and Stafford concluded Wednesday afternoon with a ruling from Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova. He said the evidence clearly shows the defendants intended to rob the victims.
Along with murder, the judge ordered each defendant to stand trial charged with two counts of attempted robbery. Córdova reduced an attempted-murder charge to assault with a firearm for each defendant. He said there’s no evidence the defendants intended to kill the surviving victim when he was shot.
Testimony in the preliminary hearing indicated Stafford arranged to buy marijuana and told the victims to meet him in the parking lot behind the Velvet Grill. Riley was there with her boyfriend, Stafford.
Deputy Public Defender Maureen Keller, Oldham’s attorney, argued that there was no evidence her client fired the gun that killed Villavicencio. She also said there’s no evidence the defendants intended to rob the victims.
The victims arrived in the parking lot in a Chevrolet Corsica. The surviving victim was driving, and Villavicencio was in the front passenger seat. Stafford got into the back seat of the parked car with his feet still on the ground outside.
Keller told the judge Stafford arranged the marijuana purchase, and the testimony indicated there was no argument over the marijuana or demands made. She argued the surviving victim told police that he drove away before it escalated, but there was no evidence of an attempted robbery.
The car sped off initially before gunfire erupted. The car became stuck on a curb in the parking lot. Police later found the car riddled with bullet holes.
Mark Sullivan, Stafford’s attorney, argued there’s no evidence his client intended to kill Villavicencio. He said Stafford fired his gun only as he was falling out of the car after the victims sped off.
A forensic pathologist testified that gunpowder residue found in a thin circle pattern around the entrance wound on Villavicencio’s back indicates the gun’s muzzle was placed directly against his back when the fatal shot was fired.
Sullivan told the judge his client fired his gun from a distance, not directly on Villavicencio’s back as the pathologist found. The defense attorney suggested that the surviving victim likely fired his gun as he and Villavicencio were crawling out of the car, accidentally killing his partner.
Deputy District Attorney Brad Nix argued there was no evidence the victims were armed with guns when the shooting occurred. He said it’s clear the defendants were working together in the planned robbery, and the evidence shows the bullets found inside the car were fired from the handgun Stafford had in the car.
Córdova scheduled the defendants to return to court March 4 for an arraignment hearing. They both remain in custody at the jail as they await trial.