Crime - Sacto 911

Suspect’s role debated during trial in fatal 2014 park shooting

Avery Hill sits in court prior to the start of opening arguments in the trial of three defendants accused of murder in the May 2014 shooting at a birthday party at Peregrine Park in Natomas that killed a man and wounded six other people, including a 7-year-old, Wednesday June 22, 2016, at the Sacramento County Courthouse.
Avery Hill sits in court prior to the start of opening arguments in the trial of three defendants accused of murder in the May 2014 shooting at a birthday party at Peregrine Park in Natomas that killed a man and wounded six other people, including a 7-year-old, Wednesday June 22, 2016, at the Sacramento County Courthouse. lsterling@sacbee.com

Avery Hill is not guilty of murder in a deadly May 2014 birthday party shooting at Natomas’ Peregrine Park, his attorney said at trial Thursday in Sacramento Superior Court, even as the prosecutor in the case sought to emphasize Hill’s role in the gun attack that killed one man and wounded six others, including a 7-year-old girl.

Hill, along with Kelly Thomas, also 24, and Orlando Rhinehart, 30, face a count each of murder and six counts of attempted murder in the shooting spree that left Jacoby James, 29, dead with a gunshot to the back, in what prosecutors are framing as a revenge attack against rivals.

The case against Thomas began Wednesday. Jurors will hear opening statements in Rhinehart’s case on Monday. Separate jury panels have been assigned to hear evidence against the three.

Defense attorney William White in his brief opening statement cited “missing facts” in the case, arguing that Hill, 24, is not guilty of murder or attempted murder.

“The evidence, even if it’s all true, does not make him guilty of murder,” Hill told jurors Thursday in the second day of trial in the Peregrine Park shootings.

But Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Eric Kindall suggested that Hill was a conduit between friend Thomas and Rhinehart.

Kindall cited cellphone records and cell tower signals that he said pointed to conversations Hill had with both men before the May 10, 2014, park attack as well as phone activity near the Pocket Road apartment where alleged mutual rival Lawrence “M3” Smith was found shot and killed a year earlier, in 2013. Jurors also viewed a threatening Instagram post before the park shootings that mentioned members of Smith’s New Money crew.

It was at the birthday gathering for the late Smith’s 1-year-old child at Peregrine Park where bursts of semi-automatic gunfire scrambled partygoers, wounded a half-dozen and left James dead. Among the wounded were members of Smith’s New Money crew, embroiled in an ongoing feud with Thomas and Hill, whom they blamed for Lawrence Smith’s death, White said.

Witnesses said two armed, hooded men began firing at the park’s picnic area as they advanced from the nearby basketball courts.

Police arrived to a scene of chaos, Kindall said, projecting a diagram of the shell casings that blanketed the picnic area. Investigators later recovered 55 shell casings from the scene.

Kindall framed the park attack as payback for a February 2014 ambush attack on Thomas at his north area apartment complex that Thomas believed was engineered by the New Money crew.

In a recorded telephone conversation between Thomas and sidekick Aaron Potts before the Peregrine Park shootings that was played Wednesday for jurors, Thomas is heard describing the ambush. Thomas said his would-be assailants knew where he lived, that he had a $100,000 bounty on his head and that he recognized one of the men as a New Money member.

Nearly three months after the apartment ambush, James lay dead and three others in the New Money crew were shot and wounded. Two women and a girl also were shot in the attack.

Hill was arrested in Las Vegas, where he was in custody on another charge, in September 2014. Thomas and Rhinehart were arrested in August 2014. All three remain held without bail at Sacramento County Main Jail.

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith

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