All of the expected problems of having a drug dealer serve as a star witness in a murder trial have been further complicated in the case of two men accused in the shooting death of a 7-month-old boy and his father.
Deputy District Attorney Eric Kindall said in his opening statement Monday that an eyewitness to the chaotic events that preceded the fatal shootings had to be arrested in Mexico last week to ensure he would show up to testify against Donald Ortez-Lucero, 29, and Christopher Nicholas Strong, 30. The two are charged with special-circumstance murder in the deaths of Sean Aquitania Jr. and his father, Sean Aquitania Sr.
Frederick Dallas Gill was taken into custody last week at his mother’s residence near Ensenada, in Baja California, according to his lawyer. Gill was then transported to San Diego County last Tuesday before he was sent to Sacramento on Thursday and booked into the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center at 1 a.m. on Friday.
Held on a no-bail material witness warrant, Gill is scheduled to testify in Sacramento Superior Court on Tuesday against the two men accused in the Sept. 14, 2007, killings at Gill’s house on Country Greens Court in the south area.
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Authorities say Aquitania Sr., 21 – with his son in a baby seat – drove to visit Gill the same time as the two defendants arrived to rob the place. They say Ortez-Lucero pistol whipped Aquitania Sr. when he wouldn’t get out of his car and that the defendant’s .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun then discharged the bullet that fatally struck the infant in the head.
In his opening remarks to the jury, Kindall said that Gill “at that time was a drug dealer” and in fact was in the middle of a “magic-mushroom” transaction in his house when the shooting erupted.
Gill “had been engaged in the drug business there for quite some time,” Kindall said.
Gill had been expecting his friend, Aquitania, to come over for a visit, Kindall said. Aquitania had gone to the house, according to a sheriff’s detective’s testimony last spring, to borrow a gun to pull off a drug robbery of his own.
When Gill heard Aquitania drive up, he went to the front door to meet him.
“As he did so, he noticed there were a couple of people there with Sean Sr.,” Kindall said. “The people came into the house, and they held guns on everybody. According to Mr. Gill, Sean Aquitania Sr. was desperate to get back out to where his child was. And ultimately, according to Mr. Gill, he was allowed to leave the residence.”
Gill, 28, told detectives the intruders pistol-whipped him and demanded his money when “all of a sudden Sean Sr. burst back into the house and said something about people pulling a gun on his son,” Kindall said. “And then with his bare hands, Sean Aquitania Sr. proceeded to attack the two men with guns.”
While Aquitania fought the robbers, Strong lost control of his weapon and Gill and another friend who was inside, Anthony Palmer – both of whom had their hands zip-tied – ran out of the house, according to Kindall. A third person, a man who was conducting the mushroom deal, jumped out of a window when the robbers came in the front, Kindall said.
When the robbers left, Gill went to Aquitania’s car and saw that the baby had been shot. Kindall said Gill grabbed the boy and took him to a school bus driver running her route nearby. The driver called 911 and Sean Jr. was rushed to UC Davis Medical Center, where he later was pronounced dead.
Once he handed off the baby, Gill gave his car keys to Palmer and told him to go get help, Kindall said. Authorities later found a black trash bag in the car that had a stolen handgun, about $5,000 in cash and some unspecified drugs, the prosecutor said.
Jesse Ortiz, the lawyer representing Gill, called his client “a victim in this case.” He said for prosecutors “to now treat him like a criminal and have him remain in custody is not fair.”
Ortiz said Gill had been in Mexico for several weeks until he was taken into custody last Tuesday. He “didn’t want to testify and if it was up to him he wouldn’t,” Ortiz said. But Gill still told the District Attorney’s Office that they could come get him in Mexico, bring him up to Sacramento and then return him to his mother’s place in the Baja beach town.
Instead, Gill was arrested, “and in custody he remains,” Ortiz said.
With the trial underway, the DA’s Office declined to discuss Gill’s situation.
Both Gill and Palmer gave authorities descriptions of one of the robbers that roughly matches Ortez-Lucero. The other robber wore a mask, Kindall said.
Ortez-Lucero’s attorney, Charles Bourdon, described Gill and Palmer as street gang members and drug dealers who “were doing nothing but taking care of themselves” after the shooting.
Bourdon focused most of his opening on another key witness, Richard Antonio Noguera, a one-time defendant in the case. Noguera was arrested in October 2011 for allegedly beating up a girlfriend. The girlfriend, in providing investigators with their first big break in the case four years after the killings, told detectives that the drunken Noguera on the night of the beating bragged to her that he had killed some 20 people, including the only one he regretted, an infant.
Prosecutors determined that Noguera’s comments to the woman amounted to a false “drunken rant,” Kindall said. In two interviews, he then directed detectives to Ortez-Lucero and Strong, both of whom were former roommates of his in South Natomas. Noguera said the two defendants gave him a detailed description of the robbery and the shootings that compared favorably to Gill’s account.
Bourdon called Noguera “a twice confessed murderer” whose credibility the lawyer intends to attack.
“That is the foundation on which their entire case is based,” Bourdon said. “That also reveals the underlying fallacy of this case.”
Noguera told investigators that Strong suffered a gunshot wound above one of his knees when one of the bullets fired by Ortez-Lucero passed through Aquitania’s body.
Donald Masuda, the lawyer representing Strong, maintained his client wasn’t there and was never shot. The lawyer said Strong will tell it to the jury himself when he testifies.