MERCED - The key witness in a gang-related homicide trial testified Wednesday
that the teenage defendant opened fire in a South Dos Palos park, stood
over the fallen body of John Cordero-Juarez and fired again.
That, however, is a different story than she told in January during a preliminary
hearing in the case against 16-year-old Ryan O. Suarez, according to the
Opening statements in Suarez’s trial were heard Wednesday in Merced
Superior Court before Judge Ronald W. Hansen.
Suarez, who has been charged as an adult, has pleaded not guilty to murder
and denied gang participation and firearm use enhancements in connection
with Cordero-Juarez’s death on June 23, 2013, at Reynolds Park in
South Dos Palos.
If convicted, Suarez faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison,
according to the Merced County District Attorney’s Office.
The witness, a teenage girl whose name is being withheld as a safety precaution
because of the street gang allegations, told jurors on Wednesday she saw
Suarez kill Cordero-Juarez, saying she was “100 percent” certain.
“I saw it and I heard it,” she testified.
But defense attorney
Jeffrey Tenenbaum presented a transcript of the woman’s testimony from the preliminary
hearing in January. He said she previously testified that she only heard
the gunshots and did not see the shooting.
The woman said Wednesday she did not remember her previous testimony.
Matthew Martinez, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, told
jurors that Suarez, a suspected gang member, approached the 15-year-old
victim in the park and shot the unarmed teenager in the back as he ran
away. Martinez told jurors that Suarez was known to wear red gang-related
clothing and the victim was wearing blue clothing on the day he was gunned down.
Law enforcement officials generally consider blue and red to be colors
worn by rival criminal street gangs.
Tenenbaum asked the jury to keep “an open mind” regarding the
case, saying his client is innocent until proven otherwise. He promised
to “poke holes” in the case against his client.
While questioning the woman on Wednesday, Tenenbaum raised the possibility
that someone other than his client was responsible for the shooting. A
person, he said, that the witness did not see because she was not looking
when the shooting started.
“You were running away scared, weren’t you?” Tenenbaum
said. “You’re not sure if there was a second person there,
She insisted she witnessed the shooting, saying she was positive Suarez
was the gunman. She said she has known Suarez since they were in the second
grade. After the shooting, she testified, Suarez ran toward his nearby home.
The trial continues this week in Merced Superior Court.