EVERETT — The prosecutor said it just couldn’t be helped: some key witnesses in a 2015 gang-related killing in South Everett are thugs, serial liars or people whose allegiance to the defendant apparently carries more weight than their duty to the truth.
The defense attorney, meanwhile, likened the case to a bowl of soup, tainted by a floating cockroach.
Dig in or throw it out?
A Snohomish County Superior Court jury on Wednesday began deliberating the first-degree murder case against Diego Tavares, 20.
The jurors since Feb. 15 have been listening to testimony about the fatal shooting of Anthony Camacho. He was just days away from turning 18 when he was shot in the head during a Dec. 12, 2015, attack at a south Everett house party.
The violence was the result of feuding between four local gangs that have divided into two alliances.
Tavares, who is known on the street by the nickname “Crooks,” had been engaged in violent “tit-for-tat retaliation” against rival gang members, deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson said in closing arguments.
Camacho wasn’t a gang member, but he hung out with them. He was killed because Tavares was angry about being shot at by rivals a few hours earlier, Matheson said.
People were uncooperative with efforts to investigate the killing, and those who did speak with police told numerous lies. Some came to court, took the witness stand, and offered up still more, he told jurors.
“It would have been nice if these people had cared just a bit more,” Matheson said.
Public defender Amy Kaestner said prosecutors hadn’t proven her client was the person who killed Camacho.
Indeed, she insisted that the evidence pointed to a co-defendant, Guillermo Padilla, who owned the .22-caliber handgun that reportedly fired the fatal shot.
Padilla earlier pleaded guilty as an adult to second-degree murder, as did fellow gang member Edgar Calixto, who drove the group to the party. Both were 16 at the time of the killing. They testified that Tavares took Padilla’s gun, crept up on the house, and opened fire.
Both also told numerous lies, Kaestner said.
She drew allusions to an insect-tainted bowl of soup, and pointed to the jury instruction that said her client could not be convicted solely on the word of his co-defendants.
She also chided prosecutors for reaching a plea agreement with Padilla and not somehow forcing him to lead investigators to the gun used in the killing so it could be subjected to forensic tests.
“That’s disturbing,” she said. “That’s disturbing when there is so much at stake.”
It would be great to have the gun, but there is plenty of other testimony and evidence pointing at Tavares, deputy prosecutor Toni Montgomery countered.
She, too, highlighted the jury instruction that makes clear co-defendant’s claims aren’t sufficient evidence to convict. She reminded jurors that prosecutors at the outset of the trial encouraged jurors to carefully weigh what every witness said against other evidence.
While their stories were given up grudgingly, Montgomery said each of the witnesses who put the gun in Tavares’ hand are consistent on key details. Those include the circumstances that led up to the attack, how the gang members assembled, where they were seated in the car and who engaged in what conduct, she said.
Moreover, members of Tavares’ own family recounted statements that he’d made after the killing that also were consistent with what investigators learned.
One of those people was the defendant’s sister, who talked about confronting her brother after word surfaced about Camacho’s death and rumors that he was involved. Tavares didn’t claim otherwise, and reportedly told his sister that should remain “our little secret,” Montgomery reminded jurors.
She also pointed to cellphone records and Facebook posts, which she said also corroborated the story. Tavares didn’t have a cellphone plan, but could use his device to send Facebook messages via Wi-Fi.
The records show multiple messages between Tavares and another gang member — “a flurry of activity that cannot be ignored” — right before and after Camacho’s killing, Montgomery said. The evidence tracks with what the co-defendants say about how Tavares pulled the group together, reaching out to those who had phones, and cars and weapons.
She also reminded jurors of a surveillance video that was made just minutes after the killing. It was shot outside a convenience store a short drive from where Camacho was gunned down.
A rival gang member was outside the store. Tavares and his crew rolled up. A younger member jumped out of the car and brazenly pulled a handgun.
Tavares put a stop to that quickly, Montgomery noted. He was calling the shots that night.
Scott North: 425-339-3431; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snorthnews.