INDIO (Wire Service) – One of three men facing capital punishment for allegedly killing an Indio woman in a drive-by attack is expected to take the stand today.
Anthony Lares and Jessie Sambrano are on trial for charges stemming from the Aug. 12, 2005, shooting that left a 19-year-old dead. A third man is awaiting trial.
Once the prosecution rests its case today, Lares will testify, most likely at 1:30 p.m., his attorney John Patrick Dolan said.
Lares, 24, and Sambrano, 25, could face the death penalty if convicted of charges stemming from a shooting that killed Vanessa Torres and seriously wounded her boyfriend, Jacob Rodriguez.
Both defendants are charged with one count each of first-degree murder and shooting at an occupied dwelling, six counts of attempted murder and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, along with a special circumstance
allegation of killing for the benefit of a criminal street gang.
Co-defendant Daniel Torres, 24, who is not related to the fatally wounded victim, will be tried separately, probably this summer.
In a videotaped interview played by prosecutors earlier in the trial, Lares told police investigators he fired a handgun because he heard sounds that concerned him.
”It wasn’t my intention to hit nobody,” Lares told the detectives.
On Monday, Indio police Sgt. Chris Hamilton testified that, while serving a second search warrant in Torres’ bedroom at his Coachella residence as a member of the county’s gang task force, he found the two guns linked to
Deputy District Attorney Rodney Tethal told jurors in his opening statement that those weapons — an assault rifle and .44-caliber handgun — were used in the shooting on Ruby Street.
He said the defendants were targeting a rival gang, while Lares’ attorney maintains his client acted out of self-defense.
Lares is heard in the videotaped interview telling investigators that he had purchased the handgun on the street four months prior to the shooting for $150 in order ”to protect himself.”
The prosecution alleges that as Jessica Torres and Rodriguez were leaving a family gathering at 83062 Ruby St., Lares and Daniel Torres opened fire from a vehicle that Sambrano was driving.
”They saw an old enemy in the area of the North Side Indio Gang, and the Indio gangs and Coachella gangs are violent rivals,” Tethal said in his opening statement.
According to Tethal, the defendants are affiliated with the VCR 52 gang. Hamilton testified that the clip and other items he found in Torres’ room were adorned with initials of that gang.
Dolan told jurors in his opening statement that his client and the other two defendants had driven from Coachella to Indio in search of a house party.
As Sambrano stopped the car to see whether he had the right address for the party, gunfire erupted, and Lares opened fire to defend himself, according to Dolan.
”They didn’t plan on shooting anybody,” the defense attorney said earlier. ”All they planned to do was go to a party. When they were attacked, all they wanted to do was get out of there.”
According to Dolan, Lares was high on marijuana, had taken Ecstasy and drank beer before being driven to Indio in his silver Ford Taurus.
Tethal said the impromptu party on Ruby Street was thrown because Rodriguez’s brother was in town from Northern California.
Rodriguez, along with two other adults and three children all under 12 years old came under fire from the trio, who had driven by the home several times that night, according to the prosecution.
Rodriguez was hospitalized for about a month for a gunshot wound to his abdomen. Vanessa Torres was hit by three bullets, with the fatal shot traveling through her lower back in an upward direction, Tethal said.
”(The car) stops and … then the hail of gunfire began,” Tethal said earlier. ”As the car drives off, people are screaming, people are crying, people are dying.”
According to Dolan, the three men had previously stopped at a nearby home, where they thought a party Lares had been invited to a week earlier was taking place. After finding no one there, they drove by the residence on Ruby
Street a few times and stopped to see if that party was the one they were seeking, he said.
Lares ”bought the weapon to go out and protect himself in case (violence breaks out),” Dolan said. ”There is an invariable reality than there is the potential for violence at every party that takes place in the east end of the Valley.”
The trial for Lares and Sambrano, which will include a penalty phase if the jury finds the special circumstance allegations to be true, could last through the end of June.
All three defendants were arrested about two weeks after the shooting, when Lares was pulled over for a traffic stop and officers found shell casings in the back of his car.