Closing arguments set for Wednesday in murder re-trial

Coachella man could get death penalty if he's convicted

Indio - The prosecution and defense rested Tuesday in the retrial of a parolee accused of killing two farm workers in a Thermal vineyard about two weeks after he fatally shot a teenage boy outside the Boys & Girls Club in Coachella.

Angel Anthony Esparza, 30, of Coachella is being retried for the Dec. 19, 2009, deaths of Gregorio Juarez and Pedro Garcia.

Esparza was tried for all three killings together and was convicted earlier this year of murdering 16-year-old Angel Luna, but the jury deadlocked on the vineyard killings, and he is being retried on those counts.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Deputy District Attorney Jake Silva told jurors 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, but Esparza ``had other ideas,'' Silva said in his opening statement.

``The defendant's idea was robbery, kidnapping and execution-style murder, and when the defendant was done with Gregorio Juarez and Pedro Garcia, they were left in this field, bound, gagged, each with a bullet hole in the head, and when they were found the next morning, they were burned beyond recognition,'' the prosecutor alleged.

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. He and Zapata drove them to a vineyard at Avenue 58 and Pierce Street, and Esparza dragged them into the vineyard, Silva said.

``And Pedro Garcia and Gregorio Juarez are never seen alive again,'' 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, the burned bodies were found, the prosecutor said.

The day after the men were killed, Juarez's ATM card was used in Coachella. On Christmas Eve, Esparza was arrested in San Bernardino on Dec. 24, 2009, and authorities found a gun that matched a projectile in Garcia's head, Silva said.

Defense attorney John Patrick Dolan said in his opening statement that Morin and Zapata ``are the people who killed those two men.''

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. Because they were charged with murder with special circumstances, they previously faced a minimum of life without parole.

Dolan said authorities got an anonymous phone call about where Esparza was staying in San Bernardino, and the written address was found in Morin's and Zapata's trailer.

``Let me show you the formula for a setup -- an anonymous phone call five days after they killed these two men, 19 days after that they get their heads together and get their story straight to point at Angel Esparza because they know he's on the run for charges unrelated to these homicides,'' the defense attorney said.

He said there were no witnesses to the crimes ``except these two rats.''

``In the end you will find this is nothing more than a setup so two women who are prostitutes, thieves and drug addicts can get a better sentence,'' Dolan said.

Zapata and Morin refused to testify at the trial, so their prior statements were read to the jury.

Esparza, who was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison for killing Luna, faces special circumstance allegations of murder during the commission of a robbery and murder in the commission of a kidnapping in the killings of Juarez and Garcia, making him eligible for the death penalty if convicted.

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