Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa told the jury of seven women and six men that the defendants, Edgar Canseco and Emmanuel Mendoza, both 20, exchanged numerous text messages and arranged a place to rob Prater of his jewelry, estimated to be worth about $2,000, on the night of Sept. 15, 2010.
Judge Richard M. Mallett and the jury heard Testa’s comments during closing arguments for each side in San Joaquin County Superior Court on Tuesday. Jurors are expected to begin deliberating in the case Wednesday, June 13.
According to police reports, Prater and his girlfriend, Keisha Anderson, 20, picked up Canseco on the western end of Sixth Street at about 8 p.m. Sept. 15, 2010.
She testified May 30 that when the couple arrived, Canseco “looked all crazy” as he waited in the roadway. He sat in the back seat behind her and asked to be driven to a friend’s house in the area of Palm Circle, she testified.
After he spent a couple of minutes inside the house, she said, the three drove to a local Save Mart Supermarket to buy snacks. While in the store’s parking lot, Canseco asked them to drive back to the end of Sixth Street so he could get something from a friend.
When they arrived, Anderson said, Mendoza emerged from the bushes near the road and climbed into the seat behind Prater, with Canseco still behind Anderson.
According to Testa, other messages between the co-defendants discussed whether Prater had a gun, which he did not. One message sent by Canseco stated: “He got a gold grill too,” referring to Prater’s mouth jewelry.
Testa told jurors Tuesday that cellphone records showed that 18 minutes before Prater was shot at 9:01 p.m., Canseco sent Mendoza a text telling him “to come back to Sixth Street.” Other messages discussing Prater’s grill and whether he was armed were sent about 10 minutes before the shooting.
According to Testa, Canseco texted Mendoza instructing him to “act like you’re getting a bag from me,” referring to a simulated drug sale, as a way to distract Prater.
When Mendoza entered the vehicle, a third man, identified by investigators as 19-year-old Jason Stancampiano, allegedly exited the bushes and pointed a rifle at Prater’s chest and demanded his jewelry.
Instead of Canseco and Mendoza acting scared, which Testa told jurors innocent men would have done, the two men allegedly grabbed Prater from behind as they sat in the backseat. It was an effort to keep Prater still while the gunman robbed him, Testa said, and when Prater resisted, he was shot once in the chest. He drove about 1,000 yards before crashing. At 10:03 p.m., Prater was pronounced dead at a regional hospital.
“Their actions restraining Kevin just proves they’re in on it,” he said.
Police identified the bullet that entered Prater’s chest, which collapsed a lung and caused him to bleed to death, as one used in a .17-caliber rifle.
Stancampiano, who fled the area after that night, is believed to be in Mexico or Florida.
Shortly after the shooting, Testa said, Canseco instructed his younger brother by text message to hide bullets in his bedroom — ammunition that prosecutors claimed was similar to what would have been used in the murder weapon.
The prosecution submitted a picture, taken before Prater was shot, of Canseco holding a rifle. A ballistics expert from the Department of Justice testified in the case that the rifle was a Model 917 Marlin capable of firing the same size bullet that killed Prater. Furthermore, investigators searching Canseco’s house at 4 a.m. Sept. 16 found documents relating to a Model 917 Marlin but could not find the rifle, according to Testa.
“I submit to you that rifle wasn’t there because it’s the one used in the shooting,” he said.
Testa argued that the premeditated nature of the crime, from text messages arranging the robbery to the presence of a loaded rifle, was enough for jurors to convict the two defendants of first-degree murder.
Jeffrey Hirschfield, defense counsel for Mendoza, told jurors to look “closer” at the facts in the case. He said his client and Canseco grabbed Prater so he would not fight the gunman and endanger others in the vehicle by getting shot.
Hirschfield said jurors needed to closely examine witness testimony, especially that given by Anderson and Macaio Teli, a Sixth Street resident who allegedly saw three men near Prater’s vehicle before hearing the single gunshot. Both witnesses’ accounts during the trial differed slightly from what they told police on the night of the murder.
Canseco’s lawyer, Lance Jacot, said that “most of the facts in the case won’t be disputed” and that the trial was “not a whodunit” case.
He reminded jurors that “there is no evidence pointing to a shooter” and reiterated that the established facts in the case showed that his client wasn’t the triggerman.
That alone, he said, should be reason enough to find Canseco guilty of the lesser offense of second-degree murder. He said it did not make sense that Canseco and Mendoza would rob Prater while he was with his girlfriend, because both men knew the couple from grade school.
“Something else was going on, and it wasn’t a robbery,” he said.
Jacot also reminded jurors that meeting a burden of proof was the responsibility of the prosecution.
“You have to make sure all those elements Mr. Testa showed you can be proven true,” he said.
Jurors are expected to receive instructions from Judge Mallett when they reconvene at 9 a.m. Wednesday, June 13, in San Joaquin County Court in Stockton.