It’s a difficult case, prosecutor Jeff Hightower acknowledged Monday, with a slain 3-year-old boy at its center and a deceptively simple conclusion: Somebody’s lying.
The trial concluded Monday in Sacramento Superior Court in the killing of young Jorge Azios III, shot dead as he slept on Independence Day 2012 in the back of the sport utility vehicle his father was driving on Loucreta and Palmer House drives in south Sacramento. Accused are Eric Minjares, 20; Gabriel Quintero, 23; and Marcus Weber, 19, the last of whom pleaded his innocence in tearful testimony from the witness stand last week.
Prosecutors say the three borrowed Anthony Canales’ white Ford Expedition at a south Sacramento party and, armed with .40- and .45-caliber handguns, tracked down the burgundy Ford Expedition belonging to the victim’s father, Jorge Azios, riddling it with bullets and killing the boy inside. Canales, immersed in the gang life in south Sacramento, was brought in by prosecutors from witness protection to testify at trial.
Defense attorneys for the three say the shooting was Canales’ work and that young Jorge was the unintended target of revenge Canales sought against Azios’ brother, Alfonso Martinez. Canales believed Martinez shot him in a July 2011 gunbattle at a Florin Road intersection and was driving a burgundy Ford Expedition.
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Canales testified that he was on the lookout for the burgundy Ford but did not fire the fatal shots July 4, 2012. On the stand, Canales recalled becoming violently ill after learning of the shooting and the younger Jorge’s death.
Weber testified that he did not know Minjares or Quintero, was never armed and was only in Canales’ white Ford with Canales on their way to and from July 4 parties.
“Either Anthony Canales or Marcus Weber lied to you,” Hightower, a Sacramento County deputy district attorney, told jurors in the case before Judge Eugene Balonon. “Either Canales lent his car to three people who killed a 3-year-old child, or Weber was only with Canales for a brief time and never had a gun.”
Hightower asked jurors to visualize “the distinctive sound of rounds sliding into chambers, the smell of adrenaline,” as Minjares, Quintero and Weber closed in on Azios’ burgundy Ford. Hightower said Weber’s guilt was confirmed by .40- and .45-caliber shell casings found inside and around the white Ford and a surveillance image showing the vehicle with a passenger in back. He said Weber’s phone and text records after the fatal shooting included calls to Canales in the overnight hours before news of Jorge’s death spread.
The prosecutor called the 19-year-old’s testimony last week “a lot of maybes, mights and I-don’t-knows.”
“I’m asking about the phone records and he breaks down in front of you,” Hightower said of Weber’s emotional testimony last week.
Minjares’ defense attorney, Jesse Ortiz, argued that the shooting was a revenge killing with unintended consequences; that Canales was a serial liar who would say anything to protect himself; and that a verdict against Minjares, Quintero and Weber would be “false justice.”
“(Canales) had one thing on his mind and one thing only – revenge. He needed to find that SUV. He began to hunt it,” Ortiz said. “You hunt something that you want to kill. That’s what he did.”