Good afternoon court watchers,
This is John Ensslin, legal affairs reporter for the Gazette, coming to you live from Division 9 where closing arguments are about to begin in the first-degree murder trial of Juan Manuel Vasquez.
Vasquez, also known as “Scrappy”, is charged in the Jan. 8, 2009 shooting deaths of two teenagers during a confrontation in Eastridge Park.
Uriel Rascon, 18 and Luis Burciaga, 17, died in the incident, which El Paso County sheriff’s investigators said was sparked by the theft of another teen’s iPod.
During the trial, which began a week ago Monday, prosecutors asserted that Vasquez killed the two teens without provocation after bringing a semi-automatic SKS rifle to what was supposed to be a fist fight.
Defense attorneys conceded that Vasquez fired the two fatal shots but argued that he fired the rifle to protect his fiancée Lisa Villaborghi moments before one of the victims was about to hit her in the head with a set of skull-studded brass knuckles.
The jury has just entered the courtroom.
Fourth Judicial District Judge Timothy J. Schutz is giving his instructions to the jury. This is the first murder trial that Schutz has presided over since being appointed to the bench late last year.
The small courtroom is packed with about 32 spectators. Several are listing via headsets to a spanish translator.
The judge has finished his instructions. Closing arguments are about to begin.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Viehman begins by repeating the phrase she used in her opening argument.
“Everyone thought it was going to be a fist fight. Everyone except for one man. This man here” she said pointing to the defendant. “With this gun,” she said, holding the SKS rifle.
This time though the gun slips and lands on the courtroom floor as she puts it back down.
Viehman tackles the claim that Vasquez acted in self-defense.
“There are too many witnesses. What else is he going to do?” Viehman says. “Of course it has to be about defending his little girlfriend. Because he has no place else to go.”
She explains that the confrontation that day was a case of mutual combat: a pair of one-on-one fist fights.
Self-defense of others does not apply in that situation, she says.
None of the other witnesses report seeing a gun at the fight except for the rifle in Vasquez’s hands.
“Brass knuckles does not entitle you to shoot people,” she said. “And secondly, where are those brass knuckles?”
She shows the jurors a picture taken after the shooting that shows the brass knuckles stuck inside Rascon’s back pocket.
“This is not reasonable force. There is nothing reasonable about what he did,” Viehman says.
“He walked in and shot these two people for no reason,” she adds. “There is no reason for this. It is senseless and it is horrible.”
Viehman talks about how evasive Vasquez was later in an interview with a detective.
“There’s no remorse. This is not heartbreak over taking the lives of two people,” she tells the jury.
Court watchers, the battery on my computer is about to run out, so I’ll pause this blog here and resume it later this afternoon.
Also watch for the full story later today at gazette.com.