A video of the fatal shooting of Yolo County Deputy Jose "Tony" Diaz three years ago prompted sobs, wails and shrieks from Diaz's family in a Woodland courtroom Tuesday.
The jarring emotional outbursts coming as the video showed loud bursts of gunfire lasted for minutes and prompted lawyers for Marco Antonio Topete to ask Yolo Superior Court Judge Paul Richardson for a mistrial.
In a brief hearing Tuesday afternoon on that motion, a defense investigator said he saw two jurors crying and another wiping her eyes during the video and family's outpouring of grief.
"This was the loudest and most prolonged spectator expression I've seen in almost 35 years of practice," defense attorney Hayes Gable III told the judge.
But Richardson said he had broad discretion and he ruled against declaring a mistrial.
The opening day scene, however, clearly threatened to derail a highly publicized murder trial marked by delays and unusual circumstances from the start. They included an arraignment in June 2008 during which the defendant's family and the media were locked out of the court building while the victim's family and law enforcement were admitted through a side entrance.
Last year Topete opted to act as his own attorney after Judge Richardson denied his defense lawyers a trial delay. He asked for his lawyers back four months later.
In April, on the eve of trial, one of Topete's two defense lawyers, 83-year-old Thomas Purtell, suffered a stroke and could not continue. Dwight Samuel, a veteran Sacramento lawyer, replaced him.
Topete, 39, has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder with special circumstances that could carry the death penalty. On Tuesday, Samuel and Gable opted to defer their opening statements for the start of their case.
The video never before made public was shown by prosecutor Garrett Hamilton in his opening statements.
Hamilton described a high-speed chase in which he said Topete led the deputy down a remote dirt road near Dunnigan, which Topete knew well, and ambushed the deputy with an AR-15 assault rifle.
"He lured him like a predator lures his prey," Hamilton told jurors.
The chase and shooting were caught on the dashboard camera of the deputy's cruiser.
Hamilton told jurors Topete, a member of the Norteño street gang, spent eight years in state prison. He was paroled in March 2007.
On June 15, 2008, a witness called 911 to report she had seen Topete drinking beer with other men in a Davis park and driving away with his baby in the car, the prosecutor said.
The caller described the car and license plate number. Authorities issued a bulletin for Topete.
Meanwhile, Topete was involved in a shooting in Woodland and fought with his wife, whom he left on the side of the highway, Hamilton said.
Diaz, 37, spotted Topete's car at a truck stop near Dunnigan and tried to pull him over, Hamilton said.
The video showed the attempted stop, with a man who appeared to be Topete. He drove his Taurus away from the truck stop and sped down a rural frontage road along Interstate 5. Diaz gave chase.
After a series of turns, the Taurus came to a stop at the end of a dirt lane, the video showed. The deputy climbed from his car, looked for the driver with a flashlight and checked on the baby still in Topete's car, Hamilton said.
Suddenly a loud burst of gunfire could be heard on the video.
Diaz crouched, trying to take cover, but he was hit. The .223-caliber bullet pierced his protective vest, which Hamilton said was no match for the military-style weapon.
The deputy was pronounced dead later at Woodland Memorial Hospital.
After a massive all-night manhunt, Topete was found the next morning hiding in brush near I-5. The rifle was found at a nearby rest stop.
"Diaz had no idea, no idea whatsoever, the true threat to his own safety that he'd come across in this car," the prosecutor said.
As Hamilton spoke, he showed a photograph of Diaz.
It elicited sobs from the deputy's two dozen relatives. As the video played, the weeping became louder and turned to wailing. Some family members left the courtroom, and a woman screamed loudly.
The judge told the bailiff to restore order and warned jurors to "completely disregard any display of emotions."
Topete, dressed in a blue shirt and tie, showed no reaction.