During closing arguments Monday in the trial of Marco Antonio Topete, prosecutor Garrett Hamilton asked jurors to handle the assault rifle Topete allegedly used to kill Sheriff's Deputy Jose Antonio Diaz on June 15, 2008.
"I really want jurors who are comfortable to hold his gun and get an appreciation for what it is," Hamilton said in Yolo Superior Court in Woodland.
A bailiff passed the black AR-15 from juror to juror. Some held it to their shoulder and sighted down its barrel.
Topete pulled the trigger of the semi-automatic weapon 17 times in less than four seconds, strafing the patrol car where the deputy stood, Hamilton said. One of the bullets pierced Diaz's protective vest and killed him.
It was all part of Topete's plan to lead the Yolo County deputy on a high-speed chase and ambush him on a dead end road near the rural community of Dunnigan, the prosecutor said.
Topete ran from his car, hid behind the corner of a friend's house and fired at Diaz's back, Hamilton said.
"Isolate him. Flank him. Conceal yourself, and gun him down," the prosecutor told jurors.
Topete, a violent parolee with two strikes, wanted to avoid being sent back to prison, and he wanted to earn respect as a Norteño gang member, Hamilton said.
He asked jurors to find Topete guilty of first-degree murder with special circumstances. The charges could carry the death penalty.
"He shot at his back, and he shot 17 times," Hamilton said. "He gave Deputy Diaz no chance to defend himself."
The shooting occurred on County Road 5, a rural lane that dead ends near Interstate 5 in northern Yolo County.
It was Father's Day 2008.
Fifteen months earlier, Topete had been paroled from state prison, where he served 9 1/2 years for assault with a semi-automatic rifle, lawyers said. It was his second felony conviction and his second strike under California's "three-strikes" law.
On June 15, a Davis resident saw Topete drinking before getting behind the wheel of his blue Ford Taurus with his infant daughter in the car. The woman called 911, and police issued a bulletin for Topete.
Diaz spotted him at a truck stop near Dunnigan just before 9 p.m. and tried to pull him over. Topete led the deputy on a high-speed chase on darkened county roads recorded on the deputy's dashboard camera.
Topete stopped near a friend's house and jumped out of the car with the AR-15, leaving his 4-month-old daughter in the car. As the deputy searched for him, he opened fire in the direction of both cars.
Diaz returned fire and was able to call for help, but he died that night at Woodland Memorial Hospital.
After a massive all-night manhunt, Topete was found the next morning hiding in brush along I-5.
He told investigators that he had only been trying to scare Diaz away and didn't intend to harm him.
But in a taped jail conversation with his wife six months later, Topete told her that he had shot the deputy because he was angry about being pulled over at the truck stop.
"Somebody wanted to be a (expletive) hero," Topete said. "Are you (expletive) stupid in the head?"
Defense lawyer Hayes Gable III acknowledged Topete shot the deputy but said it was not premeditated and amounted only to second- degree murder.
The shooting was an "emotional explosion" by Topete, stemming from a number of mental problems and severe stresses in his life, Gable said.
Defense experts testified Topete has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and antisocial personality disorder. They also said he abuses alcohol and suffers from complex trauma from his childhood and years in prison.
The disorders make Topete impulsive and paranoid, and he was drunk at the time of the shooting, Gable said.
On June 15, Topete fought with his wife and left her on the side of Interstate 505 near Vacaville. He had been unable to hold down a job, and his family had lost their rental home in Davis.
They had moved in with his parents in Arbuckle, in Colusa County. He was facing a deadline the next day to find a new residence in Yolo County or risk violating his parole conditions.
The stress, drinking and underlying conditions caused Topete to flee from the deputy in fear and to fire the gun without thinking, Gable said.
"Where is a gang motive in all of that?" he asked.
The bullets cut across the patrol car from back to front, indicating "this was not a carefully aimed pattern of shots," Gable said.
Topete fired the assault rifle in the dark, unable to see much, not knowing he'd hit the deputy, he said.
"For those of you who were shouldering it and aiming it, I suggest you do it in pitch blackness," Gable said.
Prosecutors said there was plenty of light for Topete to see what he was doing.