Jorge Azios looked up from the witness stand to the photo of the smiling boy giving a thumbs-up projected on the courtroom screen and could hardly hold back his tears.
“That’s my son, Jorge Alberto Azios III,” Azios said, identifying the boy who was shot twice in the chest amid a hail of bullets as he slept in the back seat of the sport-utility vehicle Azios drove July 4, 2012.
Azios was the first witness in the murder trial of the three men accused of killing his 3-year-old son on Loucreta Drive that night. Trial for Gabriel Quintero, 23, Eric Minjares, 20, and Marcus Weber, 19, began Wednesday in Sacramento Superior Court before Judge Eugene Balonon in a tense first day of testimony.
Hours before he took the stand Wednesday afternoon, Azios exchanged heated words with a family member in the packed third-floor hallway. An outburst led Sacramento County sheriff’s bailiffs to pursue him down the courthouse stairs and onto the street below. A distraught Azios cried and shouted obscenities while more than a dozen bailiffs were stationed outside before composing himself.
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Investigators say Quintero, Minjares and Weber borrowed a white Ford Expedition from Anthony Canales at a party to buy marijuana on July 4, 2012.
Prosecutors say Minjares and Weber were carrying .40-caliber and .45-caliber handguns when the three saw a burgundy Ford Expedition they said belonged to the older Azios near Palmer House Drive and opened fire, riddling the rear of the car with as many as 15 rounds before returning to the party, boasting to friends they had shot Azios’ car.
Investigators tracked the white Expedition back to Canales the following day,, and tied shell casings found at Loucreta and Palmer House and in the SUV to Minjares and Weber. Canales, now living out of state under California Department of Justice witness protection is expected to testify in the case, said Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Jeff Hightower in his opening statement.
Canales “ran with the wrong crew of guys,” Hightower said. “He had guns. He was shot at. He’s tattooed up to the chin. But he’s no longer living that life.”
But defense attorneys for the three men say Canales, known on the street as “Rich Kid,” is the true killer, firing the fatal barrage out of revenge for a bullet he took in June 2011 near Florin Road, then lying to authorities. Defense attorney Jesse Ortiz said Canales believed he was shot in the hand by Azios’ brother, who was driving a burgundy Ford.
The night of July 4, Canalas spotted the burgundy Ford once again. Azios testified Wednesday he heard what sounded at first like fireworks, then saw a white Expedition.
“I thought it was kids playing,” Azios said. “Then I realized the severity of the situation and I started screaming for my son.”