A jury rejected a 23-year-old Desert Hot Springs man's self-defense claim and found him guilty of first-degree murder and attempted murder for fatally shooting one gang member and wounding a second.
Paulino Valdivia Lora was convicted Thursday of killing Alfredo Stultz, 20, and critically injuring Julian Sanchez, 29, on Aug. 2, 2011, at the Country Hills apartment complex in the 66900 block of Ironwood Drive in Desert Hot Springs.
Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 21.
Deputy District Attorney Scot Clark said the defense's contention that Lora fired in self-defense was "unreasonable," telling jurors in his closing statement that the defendant's first shots brought Stultz and Sanchez to the ground, at which point he fired on them again.
Lora had approached a party that included members of the Desert Hot Springs gang West Drive Locos and asked if they'd seen his lost puppy, the prosecutor said. He said Lora exchanged greetings and walked away.
Stultz, a local gang member whose moniker was "Peanut," and Sanchez, a gang member from Imperial County who went by "Demon," went walking in the same direction that Lora had walked a few minutes earlier, Clark said.
"He (Lora) went around the corner and he waited," possibly as long as 10 minutes, for the pair to show up, the prosecutor said.
"During this time, Mr. Lora made himself ready and put on his ... shooting gloves," the prosecutor said. "He would get Mr. Stultz before he could get his weapon hot. He would get Mr. Sanchez unarmed."
A man in the complex saw Lora wearing gloves after the shooting, according to Clark, who said the witness found it unusual because people don't usually wear gloves in the desert summer heat.
Another man who lived in the complex testified that he saw Lora circling Sanchez as he lay on the ground, firing at him as he was curled in a fetal position with his arms over his head, Clark said.
The position of Stultz's wounds showed he was shot in the hip first, which took him down, he said.
"The defendant walked up to him and shot him in the chest while he was on his back disabled from the first shot," Clark said.
A forensic pathologist for the Riverside County Coroner's office testified that the bullet that went through Stultz's chest passed through his heart, lungs and aorta and exited through his back.
Sanchez briefly dropped his "gang armor" when talking to a detective in the hospital and identified Lora as the shooter, Clark said. He reminded jurors that Sanchez also did so on the witness stand during the trial."Angry, he (Sanchez) says to the defendant (while testifying), `I'm already a snitch. That's the guy who killed my homie,"' Clark said.
Lora cleaned the bullets and magazine from his gun before disposing of them in the desert, according to Clark, who said the defendant was arrested as he tried to get back into the United States from Mexico a week later.
Lora's attorney, Mickie Reed, told the jury that witnesses agreed Lora approached the gathering looking for his dog, and Sanchez said in an interview that Lora was respectful.
"There was no reason to take his wife, who was seven months pregnant, and his (5-year-old) child ... and there was really no confrontation when he got there," she said.
The attorney said Lora had almost made it home when Stultz and Sanchez came after him. She said Lora's 5-year-old son was likely telling the truth when he said the two gangsters pulled guns first, but his father shot first.
Although Sanchez didn't admit having a gun, 9mm casings were found at the scene, and evidence showed Stultz and Sanchez were struck with .45-caliber bullets. Witnesses heard two volleys of gunfire, indicating that Sanchez and Lora were shooting at each other, according to Reed, who said Stultz was likely there to back up Sanchez.
"My client was fearful for his safety and for his family. There were two guys and two guns ... Who would not believe they were coming after him? They did," Reed said.
Reed said the prosecution contended Lora was living a gang lifestyle, but there was no evidence that he did so after being acquitted of killing a gang member in Palm Springs in 2007. He moved to Desert Hot Springs, married and started raising a family, Reed said.
"He was at his apartment complex (on Aug. 2), he wasn't looking for trouble," the defense attorney said.
She said recorded interviews with witnesses showed that Stultz and Sanchez went after Lora, and no evidence that he provoked them. "Every fact shows that my client was fearful for his life," she said.