INDIO, Calif. - An alleged Desert Hot Springs gang member on trial for the murders of two people and the attempted murder of another man testified today that he never told two friends or his former girlfriend that he killed someone.
Emilio Manuel Avalos, 35, could face the death penalty if convicted of one or both murders he's charged with committing -- the Dec. 19, 2001, slaying of 20-year-old Marine Cpl. Henry Lozano and the Dec. 21, 1994, shooting death
of 17-year-old Jahi Collins -- and jurors find true special circumstance allegations of lying in wait.
The defendant is also charged with the attempted murder of Collins' friend Bobby Wilson, who was left paralyzed. The pair were targeted while sitting in a car at Wardman Park in Desert Hot Springs, according to the prosecution.
One of the defendant's attorneys, David Macher, asked him about his former girlfriend's testimony.
"In what she described as a bonding moment, (she said) you told her you had killed Jahi Collins and shot Bobby Wilson. Do you recall that testimony?" Macher asked.
Avalos said he did.
"Did you do that?" Macher asked.
"No," Avalos said.
"Did you ever claim to anyone you were responsible for the shooting at Wardman Park?" Macher asked.
"No," Avalos replied.
Later, Avalos said he told two friends about altercations he'd had with other gang members while the three smoked marijuana.
"When you were sharing with these young men, did you say that you killed Jahi Collins?" Macher asked.
"No," Avalos said.
"And did you share with them that you attempted to kill Bobby Wilson?" Macher asked.
Avalos said he did not.
"I didn't do those crimes, so I had nothing to share about," he said.
Macher asked if Avalos ever said he was going to "smoke" Henry Lozano.
Avalos said he didn't.
"Before Mr. Lozano's death, had you ever seen him in Desert Hot Springs?" Macher asked.
"No," Avalos said.
A judge consolidated the Lozano and Collins murder cases in 2007. The law allows combining separate crimes when they're the same type or have similar
attributes, said district attorney's spokesman John Hall, who said both shootings showed a distinctive method of operation and evidence pointing to
Avalos as the alleged killer.
Deputy District Attorney Pete Nolan told jurors in his opening statement last month that the case actually dated back to 1992, when Avalos was one of the people who started a gang in Desert Hot Springs that became known as the West Drive Locos.
The gang didn't like blacks and there was tension between Avalos and his associates and Collins, who was black, the prosecutor said.
"In 1994, there was further disrespect ... Jahi Collins and Bobby Wilson had the audacity to take two girls and hang out with those girls in (a) park ... a park that belonged to West Drive Locos," Nolan said.
Avalos and two associates were "mad dogging" Collins and Wilson that night, and waited until the girls left and Collins and Wilson got into their car, when they were "in the most vulnerable position," Nolan said.
Avalos and his associates put on ski masks and opened fire, killing Collins and severing Wilson's spine, the prosecutor alleged.
Nolan said Wilson didn't tell police who did it. The next year, Avalos told a woman he was dating "about killing a black kid and paralyzing a white kid" at a park, and who was with him, Nolan said.
When the woman started dating Lozano, she told Avalos she loved the Marine corporal and that he was a better man, according to the prosecutor.
On Dec. 19, 2001, Lozano went to his girlfriend's apartment in Desert Hot Springs, "and when he left the next morning, at 6 a.m., he was shot dead less than half a mile away, in his car," Nolan said.
Avalos and his associates went to Lozano's girlfriend's residence and "waited and waited and waited until 6 in the morning, until he was vulnerable in his car, unable to run, and shot him," Nolan alleged.
A man who knew Lozano and who was on trial for murder gave authorities
information about both the 1994 and 2001 shootings, resulting in Avalos' arrest
in 2006 in connection with the serviceman's slaying.
Macher said Wilson told authorities for 12 years that he didn't know who shot him in 1994.
"Only in 2006, while he was in prison, did he change his story, and he changed his story because there was probably some benefit in it for him," Macher said in his opening statement.
Avalos' other attorney, Bill Dittman, said items found at Avalos' residence didn't match the evidence at the crime scene. And Avalos told authorities he was in San Fernando with his daughter at the time Lozano was shot, Dittman said.
"If in December 2001 (Avalos' ex-girlfriend) is telling police Emilio Avalos killed Henry Lozano ... then it becomes, why is he not charged in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005? The reason why is there's not physical evidence Mr. Avalos was involved in Jahi Collins' murder, involved in Henry Lozano's murder," Dittman said.