The busy week started on a Saturday night, prosecutors say, when two reputed gang members robbed three teenagers of their iPhones and other knickknacks on the street near Valley High School.
Two days later, a man reported his white Toyota minivan stolen from his Lemon Hill neighborhood.
A couple of days after that, the same minivan turned up in two commercial thefts, according to Sacramento police and prosecutors, at the Saks Fifth Avenue outlet in Folsom and at the Roseville Galleria Nordstrom.
Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 – that’s the day the spree culminated in death, authorities said, with the fatal shooting of Anthony Navarro in Oak Park.
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Fast-forward almost two years, to Monday, in Sacramento Superior Court, where Michael Leon Williams, 18, and Anthony Wayne Valles, 17, together stood trial for Navarro’s murder and shared the other six felony counts that included robbery, possession of a firearm by a juvenile offender, receiving stolen property and assault with a deadly weapon.
“A gang lifestyle fueling a gang crime spree” is the way Deputy District Attorney Thien Ho described in his opening statement the six-day run of the members of the Franklin Boulevard area gang to which Williams and Valles reputedly belonged.
Prosecutors named Williams as the gunman in the midweek, 12:40 p.m. shooting death of Navarro, 19, the victim who at one time was a close acquaintance of defendant Valles.
Before Valles was arrested for murder in Navarro’s death, he dated the victim’s sister, according to Monday’s trial testimony. Valles was so close to Navarro and his family, the defendant’s sister told the jury, that when he took an unauthorized leave of absence once from the group home where he was living, he stayed with them while he was on the run.
“These guys are actually friends,” Valles’ defense attorney, Kevin Adamson, told the jury.
As for the gang angle, Valles told police he had been initiated into the Franklin Boulevard gang when he was 11.
Williams also had an early introduction to the criminal justice system, through no fault of his own. He was born in prison, at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, to a mother with a drug and prostitution past who was doing time there at the time of his birth, his attorney said.
“His mother chose drugs and prostitution over her kids,” defense attorney Chris Cosca said. “It was a terrible environment growing up. Terrible.”
Raised by a grandmother, Williams turned to the streets and has relied on guns to survive them, according to his lawyer.
“From the day of his birth, he’s been fighting for his life,” Cosca said of Williams.
The DA’s seven-count complaint names Valles as the gunman in the three armed robberies near Valley High, as well as an accomplice in the murder count and with receiving stolen property in the minivan theft. Valles also is charged with being a juvenile offender in possession of a firearm that police say belonged to him the day they arrested him on 20th Avenue about three weeks after the killing.
Along with murder, Williams is charged in the stolen property count and with assault with a deadly weapon – the minivan. Authorities say he used it to run over a Saks Fifth Avenue employee who tried to thwart Williams and his crew after they grabbed some jeans and hurried out of the Folsom outlet.
The day of the killing, Williams and Valles were driving around Oak Park in the stolen minivan when they spotted Navarro and a friend of his named Sergio Limon also cruising the neighborhood near Broadway at Martin Luther King Boulevard, Ho told the jury in his opening.
Even though they all knew each other, and even though Valles’ older sister has had children with Limon’s older brother, the two sides shouted gang names and insults at each other, according to the DA.
The two cars pulled onto 39th Street just south of Broadway. Navarro apparently got out of his car and approached Valles and Williams in the minivan, when Williams pulled out a 9-mm semiautomatic handgun and shot Navarro eight times, Ho said. Navarro died later at UC Davis Medical Center.
Williams made a quick exit out of Sacramento, destination Mexico, before he returned to California, where he was taken into custody 12 days after the shooting in Palm Springs, the DA said.
When Sacramento police detectives flew south to interview him, Williams at first told them he wasn’t in town the day of the killing, according to Ho. A still photo pulled from a surveillance camera at a grocery store about a block from where Navarro was shot served to undermine the alibi; it showed Williams at the store counter the same day.
“Finally, Michael Williams admitted that he shot and killed Anthony Navarro,” Ho told the jury in his opening statement.
In admitting to the shooting, Williams said it was in self-defense, that Navarro pointed a gun at him and fired first. The only problem with that account, Ho said, is that there was no gunshot residue on Navarro’s hands.
Defense attorney Chris Cosca, in his address to the jury, insisted it was a case of self-defense.
“I was scared I was going to die,” Cosca quoted his client as telling detectives once he came clean with them.
Cosca said Navarro most definitely had a gun, and that he had trained it on his client, and that “Michael Williams has said that from Day One.”
“It was either kill or be killed,” Cosca said.