A full-on frontal photo of his face at the crime scene, an eyewitness identification, and his left ring finger that was blown off and left behind in the fatal North Highlands pharmacy shootout even Kelvin Arnell Peterson would have to admit that the prosecution's case against him is pretty strong.
On Wednesday, however, a Sacramento Superior Court jury was forced to wrestle with what figures to be a more difficult question in the murder trial into the Sept. 2, 2010, shooting death of pharmacy clerk Tania Gurskiy. Is the depiction of the second suspect taken from the surveillance videotapes that of Bernard Krungerrun Reed?
As Peterson's smaller co-defendant, Reed took the witness stand Wednesday to say it wasn't, and an examination of the pictures shown in court suggests it could be a tough call for the jury. The build "favors" him, Reed himself admitted to detectives who arrested him in Reno eight days after the shooting. Other photos, however, including a profile from behind the counter of the Rexall pharmacy on Watt Avenue, were less conclusive.
Deputy District Attorney Scott Triplett and defense lawyers Paul Irish for Reed and Greg Foster for Peterson are scheduled to deliver their closing arguments to the jury today. Judge Troy L. Nunley will then instruct the panel and order it to begin deliberations.
Gurskiy, 27, was shot and killed at close range when the gunman authorities identified as Peterson, 43, ran out of the store after walking in with a note demanding OxyContin. Police and prosecutors say it was Reed, 35, who wore the two-toned, blue-and-gray sweat shirt and white baseball cap as he accompanied Peterson into the pharmacy. The videos show that the second robbery suspect slipped behind the counter and swiped money from the cash register while his accomplice went around the back to strong-arm the owners for the drugs.
In testimony last week, Dennis Okimoto, the son of the pharmacy store owner, delivered eyewitness testimony identifying Peterson as the gunman.
"I was able to get a good look at his face," Okimoto said, when Peterson stuck a gun in his midsection.
"I thought he was going to definitely shoot me," Okimoto testified.
When the suspect aimed his gun at the head of Okimoto's father, the son reached for his own pistol, pointed it at Peterson and pulled the trigger. When it didn't fire, the click was enough to send Peterson running out of the store, shooting, authorities said, while Okimoto ducked for cover and fired back.
Triplett said Peterson fired the shot that killed Gurskiy.
In his testimony Wednesday, Reed described himself as a self-employed drug dealer in September 2010 who augmented his income by pimping out his girlfriend as a prostitute. He said he met Peterson a month before the robbery and did drug business with him.
The afternoon of the killing, Reed testified, he was in his rented town house on Port Gibson Court, near Auburn Boulevard and Greenback Lane, baby-sitting his roommate's 2-year-old son. His residence was about five miles from the robbery site.
"Did you ever leave your address and go to the Rexall pharmacy on Sept. 2, 2010?" Irish asked him.
"No," Reed replied.
Phone records showed Reed's cellular signal bounced off assorted towers in the vicinity of his residence and the pharmacy. His house was somewhat centrally situated among the towers, but he said he had no explanation why it bounced off different ones.
Under questioning from Triplett, he denied he was driving around the robbery area the time it happened.
"I didn't move nowhere," Reed said. "I was in one spot."
Reed testified he recognized the taller person in the videos as Peterson, and he admitted to communicating with the co-defendant on his cellphone around the time of the robbery. In one conversation less than an hour after the 12:30 p.m. shooting, he spoke with Peterson on the phone for 226 seconds. Peterson "told me he got shot," Reed testified.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Reed said he received phone calls from family saying "the dude in the white hat looked like me." A couple days later, he went to Reno with his girlfriend and checked into a hotel, where Sacramento County sheriff's detectives caught up with him the next week.
During his interview with them, Reed admitted, he lied no fewer than seven times. In one key falsehood, Reed denied knowing Peterson when detectives showed him a picture of the co-defendant.
"I was scared," Reed said. "I didn't want to get arrested for murder. Knowing him, I didn't want to implicate myself. I just didn't want to have nothing to do with it."