The man charged with gunning down Delano grape grower Jakov Dulcich must be found not guilty as there is no evidence he committed the crime and even a witness to the shooting testified the defendant is not the man who pulled the trigger, a defense attorney told jurors Wednesday.
The murder trial of 24-year-old Mariano Perez is a "complete injustice," Deputy Public Defender Lexi Blythe said during her closing argument.
"This entire trial has not been a search for the truth," she said. "This trial has been a search for a conviction. A false conviction for Mr. Perez."
Prosecutor Ken Russell, however, said investigators traced the suspect vehicle to Perez, who he said was caught in multiple lies to investigators. Perez lived down the street from where the killing occurred, wasn't working at the time and had the opportunity, he said.
Russell told the jury the "cone of evidence" narrows down and points to the defendant as the perpetrator.
Perez is accused of killing the 84-year-old Dulcich the morning of April 11 near the intersection of Woollomes Avenue and South Browning Road. Dulcich is the founder of Dulcich & Sons, a farming company known for its grapes.
Perez is charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and shooting at an occupied motor vehicle and faces a life term in prison if convicted. Superior Court Judge John R. Brownlee is presiding.
A witness to the shooting told investigators he was traveling on Browning Road when he saw an SUV and a car traveling south on Browning trying to hit each other, according to court documents.
The witness pulled over and the SUV — driven by Dulcich — veered toward him and crashed into his PT Cruiser, documents said.
The car stopped at the crash scene and a passenger got out and opened fire on the driver of the SUV, the witness told investigators. The shooter then said "let me go kill this guy too" and started chasing the witness, he said.
The witness said the shooter pointed a gun at him at point blank range and pulled the trigger "but nothing came out," according to the documents. The two then fought, and the witness grabbed the front of the shooter's sweater and pulled it over his head.
The witness said he then released the shooter and ran south on Browning Road. The shooter returned to the car and it sped off.
Law enforcement arrived, and shortly afterward black smoke was seen rising from the county line. A burning 2009 Kia Rio was found there. The vehicle was similar to the description of the suspect vehicle, documents said.
A firefighter used a stick to lift a bumper away from the blaze, Russell said. The license plate was recovered and led investigators to Perez.
Russell and Blythe disagree over whether the witness at any time positively identified Perez as the shooter. Russell said the witness identified him through a photographic lineup, but Blythe said the witness told investigators Perez's photo was the one that most closely matched the suspect, not that he was the suspect.
Blythe pointed out investigators told the witness the lineup would only be used as a lead. They told him circling Perez's photo didn't necessarily mean he was identifying Perez as the shooter.
And when called to testify, the witness said Perez is not the person who pointed a gun at him, Blythe said. The witness said the shooter had no tattoos, and Perez has multiple tattoos visible on his head and neck.
"Mr. Perez is covered with tattoos," Blythe told the jury.
The witness also said the gunman was shorter than him, but he and Perez are about the same height.
During his rebuttal, Russell said Perez's tattoos weren't visible because he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt. He said the witness, only 19, was clearly nervous when he testified, but had previously identified Perez as the culprit.
He told the jury the totality of the evidence leads to Perez as the shooter.
Deputy Public Defender Mark Aguilar is co-counsel for Perez.
The jury was expected to begin deliberations Wednesday.