Jesse Dean Jones, 15, was shot dead Nov. 27, 2010, in Sacramento. Luis Prudente is on trial in his killing.

Double-homicide case with gang ties goes to Sacramento Superior Court jury

Published: Friday, Jul. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Jul. 21, 2013 - 9:38 am

He wore a black hat with a "P" on it and claimed membership in a "Sureño" subset and appeared in a YouTube video where young men flashed guns and gang signs to a rapper's back beat.

Luis "Rata" Prudente belonged to a gang. Nobody disputed it, not even his defense lawyer.

The question is whether Prudente, 20, is a double murderer, and that's what a Sacramento Superior Court jury must decide after closing arguments were completed in the case.

Deputy District Attorney Michael Kane on Thursday characterized the evidence against Prudente as "overwhelming."

An eyewitness identification and Prudente's own text messages did him in, Kane said, in the drive-by double-barreled shotgun killing at 2 a.m. Nov. 27, 2010, of 15-year-old Jesse Dean Jones near the Encina High School baseball diamond.

Fingerprints and the testimony of a purported Prudente accomplice loom large in the 2 a.m., Oct. 23, 2009, fatal hit-and-run vehicle attack on Julian Juan Dearcos, 35, on nearby El Camino Avenue, according to the prosecutor.

Assistant Public Defender Sue Karlton countered that the identification of Prudente came from the slain teenager's girlfriend, whose visual account was rendered unreliable by the stress she endured as a result of being shot herself at the same time by the same gunman.

On the night Dearcos was run over in his own driveway, then run over again in the street by killers in a stolen car, the fingerprints of the same immunized prosecution witness whose testimony put Prudente in the defendant's chair were on the car used in the fatal hit-and-run attack. Karlton said the witness was just as likely to have been the driver as the defendant.

A fight over gang turf provided the backdrop to both killings, the lawyers agreed.

Prudente belonged to a set called the Howe Park Sureños, a group composed of 98 validated gang members, according to trial testimony. At the time of both killings, the gang was trying to assert itself in the neighborhoods in the vicinity of Howe and El Camino avenues in confrontations with Norteños, who claimed the same streets.

Kane called it "a hotly disputed area" between Sureños and Norteños, one where "they are both present, marking their territory."

Both victims in the killings had past and present gang ties of their own, according to evidence in the case.

Jones, when confronted by gang rivals the night he was killed, shouted an epithet at them. He also was armed, but the gun he had in his waistband never came out before he suffered a fatal shotgun blast at the corner of Clinton Road and Wittkop Way, according to Kane.

When Jones and his girlfriend took to the streets two hours after midnight, Prudente was several days into a text-message exchange with acquaintances in which he was trying to get a gun, Kane said. "Rata" wrote about how gunmen in a red car had shot at him, and that his side had to retaliate.

"It's a park thang," Prudente wrote, in one text message displayed in court during the DA's closing argument. "We all gotta ride," he added, in the same text the day before the Jones killing.

In a text the next day, he told a friend to "Drop Casket," a remark Kane said clearly referred to the fatal shooting from the night before.

Jones' girlfriend suffered a shotgun wound to her foot. She testified that the gunman shouted "HPS territory!" right before pulling the trigger at the two of them. She later told a friend when she saw a Myspace picture of Prudente, "I swear on everything I love" that he did it. The girl identified Prudente in court as Jones' killer.

In her closing argument, Karlton cited several discrepancies in what the girlfriend said from interview to interview to her testimony in court, suggesting she could not be believed.

Karlton sought to establish an alibi for Prudente the night of the Jones killing, pointing to testimony by Prudente's aunt and cousin that he was at their house about the time of the shooting.

In the Dearcos killing, Kane said the fatal hit-and-run was preceded by a vandalism attack five days earlier on the home the victim shared with other family members. Vandals returned to the residence the night of the killing yelling "southside" and throwing a brick through a window, authorities said.

A few hours later, Dearcos, who apparently once had Norteño connections, and two relatives were waiting when a car drove up slowly on the residence again. This time, the Dearcos side threw a brick at the car, which drove off, but circled back and took aim at Julian Dearcos and ran him down in his driveway, according to testimony at trial.

The DA gave limited "use" immunity to a witness named Jaime Toledo, who said he was in the car that night and Luis Prudente was behind the wheel.

Karlton suggested it was Toledo who drove the car in the hit-and-run attack.

Call The Bee's Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.

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