Delays prolong justice in '01 death

This story appeared in The Bee on March 6, 2007.

Six years and counting.

That's how long it's been since 18-year-old Oroville R sado was shot and killed while standing on the porch of his Janna Avenue home in central Modesto.

The authorities believe he was a victim in a feud between two Norteño gangs — the Northside Boyz and Dead Man's Curve — that wanted to control drug trafficking in the Highway Village neighborhood.

Within weeks, the district attorney's office charged six young men with murder. The pace slowed when the case got to Stanislaus County Superior Court, where it has been plagued by delays.

Now, three men who negotiated plea deals are expected to testify against three others who remain charged with murder. A prosecutor must hold two trials, presenting the evidence in June and again in October.

To the prosecutor, the case is a good example of the hang-ups that defense attorneys can cause when they litigate every turn of the screw, in hopes that the evidence will weaken as witnesses move away or memories fade.

"These defendants have the oldest booking numbers of anybody in the jail," Deputy District Attorney Doug Maner said.

To defense lawyers, the case shows what can happen when prosecutors withhold information, prompting the need for more investigation as a trial nears.

"When you exaggerate things and you don't go by the facts, that's when you get into all kinds of problems," said attorney Ramon Magaña, who represents Robert David Rodela III. "And that's what happened here."

Either way, Rosado's April 6, 2001, death prompted the county's oldest pending murder case.

According to court records, there were at least eight incidents between the two gangs in the weeks before Rosado was shot in the face, including five drive-by shootings.

Police contend two cars converged in the 2700 block of Janna Avenue just after 11 p.m., one driven by Domingo Martinez, 26, the other driven by Vincent Lopez, 28, court records said.

Rodela, 26, may have been in the back seat of the second car, court records said. Prosecutors have not identified a shooter, and the three men are charged equally in the murder.

Investigators found 37 shell casings from several guns, including an AK-47 and two .380-caliber handguns. A tip sent the police to a canal, where they found the guns wrapped in a bedsheet.

Three men accuse another trio

Three men who had been charged with murder laid the blame on Lopez, Martinez and Rodela, according to court records.

Scott Bates Jr., 23, told authorities that he loaned Martinez a 1991 Pontiac Grand Prix that allegedly was used in the drive-by shooting, and retrieved the car a few blocks from the crime scene after the shooting.

Brian Oyler, 31, told authorities that Martinez wanted revenge because he had been shot by members of Dead Man's Curve. He said Lopez agreed to be the driver during the shooting.

Lamar Huntley, 30, told authorities that he retrieved the guns from Bates' home the morning after the shooting.

Bates was prosecuted in Juvenile Court; Oyler pleaded guilty to gang and accessory charges; and Huntley pleaded guilty to gang charges. They will be sentenced after the others go to trial, court records said.

Defense attorneys said the prosecution witnesses are liars who had a motive to kill Rosado, something they say their clients lack.

They also argue that the fatal shot could not have come from the cars, because of the angle of the entry and exit wounds on Rosado's head.

In court, the defense mounted procedural challenges.

A judge threw out a Sept. 13, 2001, indictment because prosecutor Maner asked a court reporter to leave during part of the grand jury proceedings, resulting in a gap in the transcript.

But Maner prevailed after a second grand jury handed down an indictment Oct. 11, 2002.

The defense again asked for a dismissal, saying the prosecutor should have excused four jurors who were acquainted with witnesses or defendants, and failed to present evidence that could exonerate their clients.

Judge Nancy Ashley said Maner did nothing wrong.

'We have fought tooth and nail'

A new twist arose in 2004, when Lopez was picked up on a warrant after a traffic stop in Houston. He was arraigned on murder charges in Modesto in June 2005. His attorney, Angelyn Gates of Studio City, attacked the indictment, saying there was no direct evidence tying Lopez to the crime scene.

The prosecutor prevailed again.

In November, Lopez asserted his right to a speedy trial, but Martinez and Rodela sought further delays as their lawyers questioned the prosecution's handling of a key witness, Gerardo Jaquez.

Jaquez initially said he was in Rosado's living room and hit the floor when the bullets started flying.

Six months later, Jaquez said he was on a lawn across the street and engaged in a gunbattle with the rival gang, adding that he hid his gun on the roof before police arrived.

The defense contends that Jaquez could have fired the shot that killed Rosado, and that Maner withheld key information by not turning over a taped interview between Jaquez and detective Al Brocchini.

Maner said the issue is a nonstarter because Brocchini told the grand jury about Jaquez back in 2002.

The issue was put on hold this spring when the judge said Lopez could go to trial before Martinez and Rodela, because Magaña had a medical condition that required a leave of absence.

Defense attorney Frank Carson, who represents Martinez, said he will mount a new attack on the indictment based on the omitted tape.

The fact that his client has the oldest booking number in the jail makes him chuckle. He said it is better to protect a client's rights before trial than appeal a wrongful conviction.

"The system is working," Carson said. "But it's only because we have fought tooth and nail."