Twice, prosecutors said, Reshay Tiara Mott and Elliton Jaytwan Varnado clicked through the want ads on Craigslist and found a couple of easy robbery marks in men who were on the prowl for some sexual entertainment.
The third time, a man turned up dead, and Mott and Varnado now find themselves on trial for murder in Sacramento Superior Court.
Unlike the first two men who were lured into the purported robbery trap, Domenic David Lafazia, 49, fought back. He put his 262 pounds to work against the gunman who was paired up with the woman who drew him into a dark alley in Meadowview and actually got a hold of the robber’s weapon, Deputy District Attorney Andrew Soloman told the jury in his opening statement Monday.
Lafazia’s struggle ended when the gun went off and a bullet struck him in the chest. He died in the middle of the night at the bottom of a stairway in the back of the Stonegate Apartments on Mack Road.
A 16-year-old boy who testified on the first day of trial said he heard the whole thing play out around 1 o’clock in the morning on July 7, 2013.
“There was one phrase I heard clearly – ‘Where’s my money?’ ” said the boy, whose name is being withheld by The Bee to protect his safety. “There was a lot of hostility behind it. It did seem like they were arguing.”
With the demand still fresh in his ears, another sound punctuated the conversation below his window behind the commercial and residential strip that ranks as one of the most violent stretches of any part of Sacramento.
“That’s when I heard the gunshots,” the boy told the jury.
He likened the ensuing sound of footsteps running to “some scattering-like movement.”
“And after the movement, it was quiet for a little bit, and that’s when I heard somebody say, ‘Help me, help me. I’ve been shot.’ ”
Witnesses who ran down into the alley behind the Stonegate’s carport said they found Lafazia in an alcove, clutching a sweatshirt that he tore off the frame of the man with the gun, according to investigators. The witnesses said they also saw that Lafazia had pried the gun away.
Lafazia was a construction worker who had been working on a demolition project at the time of his death, according to his family. The witnesses said he was completely alert when they first saw him, and that he was able to walk over to a stairway and take a seat on the steps.
In a few moments, the witnesses said, he stopped breathing, and they laid him on his back at the bottom of the stairway, which is how police found him when they responded to the 911 call. They administered CPR to Lafazia, but their efforts to save his life did not succeed.
The next day, detectives arrested Mott, 21, and Varnado, 22, in the apartment they shared in the Stonegate complex with their 2-year-old daughter. Investigators found a partially-used box of Remington ammunition that matched the pistol Lafazia tore away from his killer, Soloman said.
Detectives ran Lafazia’s cellphone records and discovered a text message from Reshay Mott directing him to Stonegate, just minutes before he was shot to death, according to Soloman. The DA said the detectives checked Mott’s Facebook site and found a photo of Varnado wearing the same sweatshirt Lafazia ripped away during the skirmish.
Pictures the police took of Varnado showed a couple of scratches on his body, and DNA tests on the scrapings taken from beneath Lafazia’s fingernails established a one in 73 quintillion likelihood that the genetic material belonged to the defendant.
“That’s a lot of zeroes,” Soloman told the jury.
The defendants’ attorneys did not present opening statements Monday.
But one of the victims of one of the earlier robberies testified Monday about putting an advertisement on Craigslist “seeking a girl, for fun, and to hang out.”
“I was just bored, so I was looking for some entertainment,” Chris Carter, 47, testified.
Mott answered the ad, he said. When he met up with her in a church parking lot next door to the Stonegate apartments, she “was talking nonstop, almost babbling,” before one man he identified as Varnado came up to the driver’s-side window with a gun. Carter said another armed robber took a seat inside his car and began “beating me incessantly with the pistol in the head.”
“He’s energetically yelling, ‘Where is it?’ ” Carter testified.
Carter said he gave up his wallet. The gunmen ran off, Carter said, and he “sped out of there, bleeding,” he testified.
In a second set-up robbery, Soloman said, Mott and Varnado stole a cellphone from their victim and sold it for $500. The same day, they posted a picture of their little girl on a social media site showing her smiling and “holding a big wad of cash,” the prosecutor said.
Soloman’s trial brief said Mott and Varnado admitted to the Lafazia shooting.
When detectives were questioning Mott and Varnado at police headquarters on Freeport Boulevard, they put the couple together in an interview room and gave them a few moments to themselves – and a video camera that recorded their conversation.
“I told them I shot the dude,” Varnado told Mott, according to a transcript of the conversation in the court file. “I said, ‘Dude beat me up. ... I tried to take the man’s money ... He started fighting me. ... He pinned me to the car.”
Varnado seemingly bemoaned his anxiety about what would happen to their daughter.
“All we want to do is take care of our daughter,” he told Mott. “Now what are we going to do? Tomorrow is her birthday.”