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Lawyers offer opposing perspectives of alleged murderer

A homicidal gang member who killed because he felt disrespected — or a man who acted in self defense during a tense and violent situation?

Those contrasting perspectives were presented by attorneys during opening arguments in homicide trial of 31-year-old Merced resident Felix Calderon.

Calderon, who prosecutors claim is a member of the Norteno affiliated “M Street” gang, is the defendant in the March 5, 2005 killing of 21-year-old Joe Gravito, who died after being shot outside of a party in Atwater.

In addition to a murder charge, Calderon is also facing two attempted murder charges for non-fatally shooting two of Gravito’s friends, in addition to charges for being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. Those charges also carry gang enhancements, since prosecutors believe Calderon committed the crime in furtherance of a criminal street gang’s activities.

Wearing an off-white dress shirt and olive slacks, Calderon watched calmly as Deputy District Attorney Mark Bacciarini described how Calderon allegedly shouted the gang slogan “Norte” before fatally shooting Gravito in the left side of his torso.

While Bacciarini acknowledged that Gravito and his friends who showed up at the 2162 Eucalytus Avenue party were “not angels,” he said Calderon arrived at the residence with a gun looking for trouble. “He had prepared himself mentally to kill, should the need arrive. And that’s exactly what he did,” Bacciarini said.

Calderon’s attorney Bill Davis said, however, that it was Gravito and his friends who were the aggressors at the party, and his client merely acted in self-defense. “Any one of us would have done the same thing,” Davis said.

For more about this story, read Thursday’s Merced Sun-Star.