Jurors are expected to begin deliberations Thursday in the case of gang member accused of killing a fellow Norteño at the Yakima County jail in 2018.
Felipe Luis Jr.’s attorney rested his case Wednesday morning in Yakima County Superior Court, after showing jurors video of the time leading up to the attack on Jacob Ozuna on Dec. 9, 2018, as well as detailing the number of times corrections officers dealt with fights in the unit, and how quickly they responded.
Luis, 21, is charged with aggravated first-degree murder in Ozuna’s death. Prosecutors allege that Luis and two fellow gang members brutally beat Ozuna in the Norteño gang housing unit at the North Front Street jail because he killed another gang member without authorization from gang leaders.
Ozuna was in jail on a murder charge in the death of Dario Alvardo in May 2018.
Luis’ attorney, Rick Smith, has argued that the state has not proven that Luis and the others, Deryk Alexander Donato and Julian Luis Gonzalez, intended to kill Ozuna, or that Ozuna’s alleged victim was a current gang member when he was killed.
Smith played video from more than an hour before the attack showing Ozuna and the men accused of attacking him milling about the housing unit, with no sign of impending danger.
Gary King, a private investigator retained by Smith, testified that jail records he obtained for that housing unit showed officers were called 10 times for fights among inmates from December 2017 to Dec. 9, 2018, and that the response was almost immediate, unlike Ozuna, who was beaten for more than 13 minutes before officers responded.
King said in those cases, officers either saw or heard a commotion, or an inmate summoned them to the unit.
But under cross examination from Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Sam Chen, King said there were only eight fights, as other cases were incidents of inmates bringing in contraband items. Chen also pointed out that Ozuna’s attack took place mainly on the upper tier of the housing unit, which was not readily visible from the officers’ duty post.
The officer on duty had testified he was filling out reports when he noticed Ozuna’s body on the floor of the unit, and that another officer did a walk-through of the unit shortly before the attack began.
Video from the jail showed Luis, Donato and Gonzalez attacking Ozuna as he talked with other inmates on the upper tier through a hatch in their cell door. The three chased Ozuna across the balcony, kicking and punching him into unconsciousness, and then dragging his body down the stairs by the feet, his head striking each step in the staircase, the video showed.
Once on the floor, the attack resumed when Ozuna’s arm moved.
Chen and Smith also sparred over bringing back Yakima police Sgt. Ilifonso Garcia, a gang expert, to rebut corrections officers’ earlier testimony that Alvarado said at his booking in April that he was a “dropout” from the Norteño gang, even though he was still classified as a gang member by police and had worn gang attire at the time he was taken into custody.
Yakima County Superior Court Judge Kevin Naught barred Garcia from testifying that Alvarado had associated with a known gang member at the time he said he dropped out, as social media posts could not establish when they were together and the screenshots of the posts would be prejudicial rather than shed light on the case.
Instead, Garcia was limited to explaining to jurors what it meant when someone had “dropped out” of a gang, and whether that made a difference in whether they would be classified as a gang member.
“It depends on how they came out,” Garcia said.
The trial is in its third week.