Sacramento jurors on Thursday acquitted one man accused of murder in a fatal 2014 gunbattle outside a Fulton Avenue hookah lounge, but convicted another in the death of the 20-year-old man caught in the deadly crossfire.
Tana Dania, 25, visibly nervous and appearing near tears as jurors filed into Sacramento Superior Court Judge Delbert Oros’ courtroom Thursday, was found not guilty of murder and lesser manslaughter charges in the July 13, 2014, shootout outside The Hookah Lounge Smoke Shop.
But jurors convicted Salvador Ramon Martinez, 20, of murder in the death of his friend, Tyrell Lamont Hall. Hall was shot in the head by a stray round while ducking the barrage in the narrow parking lot in the 1900 block of Fulton Avenue. Jurors also found true an allegation Martinez used a .380-caliber semi-automatic handgun in the shootout.
“It’s a scary experience to have your life in the hands of 12 people,” said Dania’s attorney Jeffrey Fletcher after the verdict.
“He’s a father. He can go home and be with his kids,” Fletcher said. Dania was expected to be released from Sacramento County custody Thursday evening, Fletcher said.
Hall was celebrating Martinez’s birthday at the lounge when a fight devolved into gunfire.
Martinez’s attorney, Jesse Ortiz, argued at trial that his client, who was wounded in the hail of bullets, never had a gun and was as much a victim as Hall.
But jurors in the roughly two-month trial were unconvinced. Sacramento police had recovered a .380-caliber handgun from underneath Martinez’s vehicle in the south side of the hookah lounge parking lot with traces of what prosecutor Newton said was Martinez’s blood. Shell casings from a .380-caliber handgun were also found close by.
A third man involved in the shootout, James Wallace, was acquitted of assault with a firearm during the shooting, but was found guilty of unlawfully possessing a firearm. Martinez and Wallace are scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 8 before Oros.
The close-range shootout lasted just seconds but more than 30 rounds were fired before the shooting stopped, said Sacramento County prosecutor Casey Newton.
Newton said Dania, Martinez and Wallace all were armed at the lounge, quipping at one point, “How many guns does it take to go to a hookah lounge?” and saying the shooting in the crowded parking lot was “nothing but a conscious disregard for human life.”
But Fletcher pointed to the lounge’s security video saying an armed Dania defended himself from harm, returning fire after he was shot at and wounded.
Outside Oros’ courtroom, Fletcher called Dania’s actions a “stand your ground case,” referring to the Florida law that allows people to use lethal force to defend themselves if attacked. Judicial Council of California instructs criminal jurors that a defendant “is only entitled to use that amount of force that a reasonable person would believe is necessary in the same situation.”
“He was shot at and was shot. The law allowed him to return fire. That’s the only thing he did,” Fletcher said. “We’re grateful the jury saw the evidence. We’re grateful we had video.”
Still, Fletcher bemoaned the gun violence that left a man dead, others wounded and another man bound for prison.
“This was a fistfight,” he said. “We have to get out of the mindset that if there is any problem, we immediately turn to guns. Especially men. Whatever it is, it’s not worth a life and it’s not worth risking your life. There’s nothing to be gained from gun violence. They lose their life or they spend their life in prison. It’s not worth it.”