Angel Esparza found guilty of two counts of murder

INDIO, Calif. - A Coachella man was convicted Thursday of robbing, abducting and killing two farm workers in Thermal days after he gunned down a teenage boy.

Angel Anthony Esparza was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder for the Dec. 19, 2009, deaths of Gregorio Juarez and Pedro Garcia, along with special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder in the commission of robbery and kidnapping.

Esparza, 30, was tried earlier this year for the double murder and the Dec. 3, 2009, killing of 16-year-old Angel Luna, but the jury deadlocked on the vineyard killings, triggering a retrial on those counts.

Jurors deliberated about half a day before reaching their decision. The penalty phase of the trial -- during which the panel will recommend whether Esparza should be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole -- will start next Wednesday.

Deputy District Attorney Jake Silva said in his closing argument that the facts of the case present ``a picture of Angel Esparza robbing, kidnapping and murdering Gregorio Juarez and Pedro Garcia, and for good measure, burning their flesh and the evidence.''

Silva told jurors that Esparza was staying at the Thermal residence of Christina Zapata and her daughter, Cecilia Morin, while on the run from law enforcement. On Dec. 19, Juarez and Garcia arrived with plans to pay to have sex with Morin, he said.

Esparza entered Morin's bedroom with a revolver and ordered Garcia and Juarez to the floor, took their wallets and bound them with cords and duct tape, Silva alleged. He and Zapata drove them to a vineyard at Avenue 58 and Pierce Street, and Esparza dragged them into the vineyard, the prosecutor said.

Later, Zapata's boyfriend, who had a can of gasoline with him, drove Zapata and Esparza back to the vineyard, and Esparza took the gas and a bag of the victims' belongings into the vineyard. The next morning, Juarez and Garcia were found shot in the head and burned, the prosecutor said.

Esparza was arrested in San Bernardino on Dec. 24, 2009, and authorities found a gun that matched a bullet in Garcia's head, Silva said.

Defense attorney John Patrick Dolan said in his closing argument that the jury had to believe Morin and Zapata to believe the charges against Esparza, ``and you can't believe these people.'' He reminded the jury that Morin and Zapata refused to testify in the trial -- their previous testimony was read in court -- and called them prostitutes, drug addicts and murderers.

``These women ... lied to you and said Mr. Esparza was involved in this and he wasn't,'' Dolan said.

Morin and Zapata each pleaded guilty in the case to two counts of second- degree murder last year in exchange for sentences of 15 years to life in prison.

Esparza was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison for killing Luna.

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