Opening statements scheduled in double murder retrial

Opening statements were scheduled for Wednesday, but 2 prosecution witnesses were unavailalbe

INDIO, Calif. - Opening statements are scheduled Thursday in the retrial of a Coachella parolee accused of killing two farm workers in a Thermal vineyard.

   Angel Anthony Esparza, 30, is accused in the Dec. 19, 2009, deaths of Gregorio Juarez and Pedro Garcia, who died about two weeks after Esparza fatally shot a 16-year-old boy outside the Boys & Girls Club in Coachella.

   Esparza was tried for all three deaths together and was convicted earlier this year of murdering 16-year-old Angel Luna, but the jury deadlocked on the Dec. 19 killings, and he is being retried on those counts.

   Opening statements were scheduled to start Wednesday, but two key prosecution witnesses became unavailable, delaying the proceedings.

   After the jury left, Christina Zapata and her daughter, Cecilia Morin, were brought in and told Riverside County Superior Court Judge James Hawkins they wouldn't testify. The judge said their prior testimony would be 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.

   ``Three head shots, three execution-style murders -- all three at the hands of the defendant,'' Deputy District Attorney Jake Silva told jurors in Esparza's first trial in March.

   He said Christina Zapata and Cecilia Morin let Esparza take refuge in their trailer in Thermal while he was on the run after killing Luna, and, on Dec. 19, Juarez and Garcia arrived with plans to pay to have sex with Morin.

   As the men were undressing in Morin's bedroom, Esparza burst in with a gun, ordered them onto the floor, took their cash and ATM cards, bound them and put duct tape over their eyes and mouths, Silva alleged.

   Zapata's boyfriend drove her and Esparza, who had a can of gasoline with him, to a vineyard at Avenue 58 and Pierce Street, he said.

   ``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 next morning, the men's bodies were found ``burned beyond recognition,'' he said. Both had been shot in the head.

   When Esparza was arrested in San Bernardino on Dec. 24, 2009, authorities found a gun with ballistic characteristics that matched the one used to kill Garcia, and a black hooded sweatshirt, which Esparza was wearing when he killed Luna, Silva 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.

   Defense attorney John Patrick Dolan argued in the first trial that Zapata and Morin, arrested in the deaths of the farm workers, heard about Luna's death and made a deal with prosecutors.

   ``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.

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