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Witness Identifies Defendant as Gunman in Dos Palos Park Slaying

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 defense attorney.

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, are you?”

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.

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