INDIO, Calif. - A Coachella parolee carried out the ``execution-style'' murders of three people, including a teenage boy, in the same month, a prosecutor told jurors on Tuesday, but the defendant's attorney argued there was no evidence to prove his client was the killer.
Angel Anthony Esparza, 30, is charged in the deaths of 16-year-old Angel Luna in Coachella on Dec. 3, 2009, and of farm workers Gregorio Juarez and Pedro Garcia in Thermal on Dec. 19, 2009.
Along with three counts of murder, Esparza faces special circumstance allegations of multiple murders, murder during the commission of a robbery and murder in the commission of a kidnapping. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
The two cases were originally filed separately, but a judge ruled in November that they be combined.
``Three head shots, three execution-style murders -- all three at the hands of the defendant,'' Deputy District Attorney Jake Silva told jurors in his opening statement.
Luna dropped off homework the afternoon of Dec. 3 at Coachella Valley Adult School near Eighth Street and Orchard Avenue, which is near the Boys & Girls Club in Coachella. Surveillance video showed him riding his bike to the school and entering a classroom, and a ``shadowy figure'' in the backyard of a residence on nearby Ninth Street, Silva said.
``I'll argue that that figure is Angel Esparza, waiting for Mr. Luna,'' he said.
Witnesses saw Luna interacting with someone wearing a black hooded sweatshirt when he reached the area of the Boys & Girls Club, and two volleys of shots were heard, according to the prosecution.
Esparza, meanwhile, ran into a residence on Ninth Street and asked a woman for a ride, Silva said. During the drive to Indio, the woman heard Esparza say, ``That fool was dead before he hit the ground,'' the prosecutor said.
``And he was -- he was shot once in the eye, once in the cheek and two times in the back for good measure,'' Silva said.
He said Esparza saw news reports on Luna's murder the next morning, and
told another woman with whom he spent the night that ``someone ratted me out.''
Christina Zapata and her daughter, Cecilia Morin, let Esparza take refuge in their trailer in Thermal, and on Dec. 19, Juarez and Garcia arrived with plans to pay to have sex with Morin, according to the prosecutor.
As the men were removing their clothes in Morin's bedroom, Esparza burst in with a gun, ordered them onto the ground, took their cash and ATM cards, bound both men and put duct tape over their eyes and mouths, Silva alleged.
He said Zapata and Esparza drove the victims to a vineyard at Avenue 58 and Pierce Street.
``Christina Zapata will tell you the defendant dragged both individuals into the vineyard, and you'll hear they were never seen alive again,'' he said.
The boyfriend of Morin's mother drove Esparza, along with a canister of gasoline, to the vineyard, Silva said. The next morning, the men's bodies were found ``burnt beyond recognition'' and shot in the head, he said.
When Esparza was arrested on Dec. 24, 2009, at a home in San Bernardino, authorities found a gun that matched the bullet that killed Garcia and a black hooded sweatshirt, Silva said.
Morin and Zapata each pleaded guilty to a pair of second-degree murder counts and are scheduled to be sentenced March 21, according to court records.
Defense attorney John Patrick Dolan said Esparza did run into Luna the day the teen was killed, but had no reason to hurt the boy.
He said a woman who knew Esparza saw a group of three to five people, and Luna speaking with someone in a hooded sweatshirt, but didn't recognize Esparza or hear his voice. Witnesses saw some people run to a vehicle, and Esparza, who saw the shooting, ran because he didn't want to be caught violating the terms of his parole, Dolan said.
``You will find there is no physical evidence in the area where Angel Luna was shot that relates to Angel Esparza,'' Dolan told the jury. ``You'll learn there is no eyewitness that says, `Angel Esparza is the person who committed the shooting.'''
Dolan said his client did not have a gun and didn't smell like gunpowder when he asked the woman for a ride. He also noted that Esparza didn't leave the area, even though he was named a suspect in the Luna killing.
Regarding the murders of Juarez and Garcia, Dolan said Zapata and Morin had heard about the Luna killing and made a deal with prosecutors after being arrested for the deaths of the farm workers.
``Each of them will point the finger at Angel Esparza and get second-degree murder,'' Dolan alleged.
He said there was no physical evidence placing Esparza in the women's trailer, and no gunshot residue found on anything seized at locations where Esparza stayed.
Esparza told investigators he got the gun found in the home where he was arrested ``on the street a couple days ago.'' Dolan said it wouldn't make sense for a murderer to keep a murder weapon, and there was also no murder weapon found in the Luna killing.
Regarding the hooded sweatshirt found when Esparza was arrested, ``(that) does not yield identification of a human being,'' Dolan said. He said evidence showed ``the pieces don't fit.''
``We have nothing other than the word of convicted killers and felons, and that's it,'' Dolan said.