Jury deadlocks in retrial of Coachella man

INDIO - A jury deadlocked today in the retrial of a Coachella man accused in a gang-related drive-by attack that killed a 19-year-old woman.

Daniel Cardona Torres, 27, was charged with murder and two counts of attempted murder in the Aug. 12, 2005, shooting death of Vanessa Torres, who died in the driveway of her boyfriend's home in Indio. The defendant and victim are not related.

The jury, which deliberated about a day and a half, hung 8-4 in favor of acquittal. Riverside County Superior Court Judge James S. Hawkins declared a mistrial and set a hearing on further proceedings for Oct. 25. Torres' attorney, Andrea Rathburn, said she plans to ask the judge to dismiss the charges.

Torres was convicted in December 2011 of two counts of assault with a firearm and acquitted of shooting at an inhabited dwelling, along with sentence-enhancing allegations that he intentionally used a firearm and did so for the benefit of a street gang.

However, the jury deadlocked on a murder charge and six counts of attempted murder. Torres was tried again this month for murder and two attempted murder charges. The four other attempted murder charges were dismissed, according to court records.

Daniel Torres' mother, Veronica Cardona, said outside court that her son was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was trying to turn his life around. "We feel bad for (Vanessa Torres') family and pray for them, too,'' she said.

The victim's stepfather, Derric Teran, said he and her mother Gracie were grateful to the prosecutor for his efforts and saddened by the outcome.

Vanessa Torres was at a gathering at the Ruby Street home of her boyfriend, Jacob Rodriguez, when a Ford Taurus driven by Jesse Sambrano pulled up and Daniel Torres and the other passenger, Anthony Lares, "unleashed a hail of gunfire,'' Deputy District Attorney Manny Bustamante told jurors during the trial. 

Some people were hiding behind a car parked in the driveway, and Rodriguez and another man, Jesus Morin, were struck, according to Bustamante. Vanessa Torres "died on that driveway that night as a result of the actions of these men,'' Bustamante said.

According to court documents, the three men, all affiliated with the VCR 52 gang in Coachella, drove into rival gang territory that night. In a taped interview between Torres and an investigator that Bustamante played in court, Torres said some people at Rodriguez's house "kept looking at us ... Like, `What's up?''' "In short, they drove by and saw something they didn't like,''
Bustamante said. They drove by a second time, and started shooting on the third pass, he said, adding that witnesses saw Torres in the front seat of the car with a gun.

Rathburn told jurors in her opening statement that the case "is really about intent.'' "You're going to hear about the loss of life to Vanessa Torres, and you're also going to hear that Daniel Torres never wanted that to happen, he tried to prevent that from happening,'' she said.

She said her client "tried to talk Mr. Lares out of firing at anyone, he tried to talk Mr. Sambrano out of returning to that house.''
In the taped interview, she said Torres repeated that "I know I did not kill that girl, I know I didn't, I know I shot that car ...' and the
ballistics agree with what Mr. Torres said.''

The shot that struck Morin ricocheted off the car in the driveway that Torres aimed at, Rathburn said. She said Torres had taken steps to leave the gang, but it proved difficult and he carried his handgun for protection.

Torres testified last week that he tried to discourage Sambrano and Lares from doing anything and that he fired at the car because it was empty. He said he didn't intend to attack anyone and was afraid of retribution from the gang if he didn't fire after Lares did.

Lares and Sambrano were convicted in June 2011 of first-degree murder and other charges stemming from the shooting and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

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