Atwater homicide trial goes to jury

The fate of Robby Lee Maule and Raul Herrera will be in the hands of eight women and four men today.

Jurors heard closing arguments Tuesday in the trial of Herrera, 23, and Maule, 24, who are accused of committing the Oct. 2, 2005, murder of Korey David Suttles.

Suttles, 20, was shot to death in front of an apartment complex in the 800 block of Carter Way in Atwater. While prosecutors maintain that Suttles was killed after a disagreement at a graduation party, defense attorneys say Herrera and Maule are victims of false accusations given by unreliable witness.

Chief Deputy District Attorney David Moranda told jurors that more than one witness, including a cousin of the suspects' girlfriends, was able to identify Maule and Herrera as the men responsible for Suttles' death.

Moranda said while Maule was the triggerman in Suttles' death, he was accompanied and aided by Herrera. He said both men are Norteño gang members who had been "disrespected" at the party, and later returned to seek revenge.

After making a phone call to retrieve a gun, Moranda said the pair returned and "blasted the first person" they saw. "It was poor old Korey Suttles," Moranda said.

On the other hand, Maule's attorney Thomas Pfeiff attacked the credibility of the witnesses, saying one was a 15-year-old girl who admitted to consuming alcohol at the party, while another witnesses based his identification of one of the suspects on a newspaper article photo. "None of the witnesses are credible, when you look at the whole situation," Pfeiff told jurors. "If they don't convince you, really, the case is over."

Pfeiff mentioned testimony given by witnesses, including Maule's girlfriend, who stated both defendants were at another house when the homicide happened.

The prosecution called the claims made by the defense's witnesses "ridiculous," saying they were primarily individuals with relationships or connections to the suspects. "This is all just made up, ladies and gentlemen," Moranda said.

Moranda said the disagreement at the party stemmed from a hand gesture thrown by a partygoer. Moranda said Maule accused the man of making a rival gang sign.

Even though Maule and the man shook hands after the incident, Moranda said tensions eventually escalated, and the pair was kicked out of the party. Moranda said they returned two to three hours later and Maule shot Suttles, who was walking outside.

Pfeiff downplayed the prosecution's claim that a "gang sign" had anything to do with Suttles' death. While Pfeiff said there was a conflict between female family members at the party, he said witnesses saw Maule and the man who made the hand gesture shaking hands. "Whatever happened was settled quickly, if anything happened at all," Pfeiff said.

Suttles, shot in the arm and the chest, was flown to a hospital, where he died a few hours later.

A Merced County jury deadlocked in the defendants' first trial in December 2006. The jury deliberated for three days, but was unable to reach a decision.

The men are charged with first-degree murder and gang enhancements and face maximum terms of life in prison if convicted.

The defense is scheduled to complete closing arguments in the trial today.