Wearing a San Joaquin County Jail orange shirt and pants, Nick Martinez, a member of the Tracy Norteño street gang, testified during a preliminary hearing in San Joaquin County Superior Court in the murder of 28-year-old Everuvaldo Cruz-Espino. A warrant was issued for Martinez’s arrest, because he previously told the prosecution that he didn’t want to testify for fear of self-incrimination.
“I heard a loud pop like it could have been (a gunshot),” Martinez said. “It sounded like a gunshot. Pretty loud — my ears were ringing.”
Prosecutor Mark Ott has granted Martinez immunity in the case in exchange for his testimony.
Daniel Moses Batchelder, 19, and Francisco Angel Limon, 16, are charged in connection with Cruz-Espino’s death. Batchelder’s charges include attempted premeditated murder, two counts of street terrorism, gun possession and shooting at an occupied vehicle. Though Limon is being charged as an adult, the prosecution has not released his specific charges.
When he took the stand, Martinez testified he was with Limon and a fourth man in the backseat of a Chevy Impala, being driven by Batchelder, at about 2 p.m. Feb. 24, the day Cruz-Espino was shot.
Martinez said all of the people in Batchelder’s car are members of the Tracy Norteño gang. He said the group was returning from a market on Tracy Boulevard and stopped at a red light at the intersection with Whispering Wind Drive. That’s when the shooting occurred, Martinez said.
Ott told Martinez that Limon was the only person in the car who wasn’t surprised by the shooting and then pressed the witness to identify the alleged shooter that day. Martinez said he didn’t know who fired the shot.
“Who had the gun?” Ott asked. “I didn’t see,” Martinez said. “I didn’t want to know.”
The attorney for Limon, Harry Hudson, is expected to question Martinez when the hearing continues on Tuesday morning.
On cross-examination, Batchelder’s attorney, Timothy Rien, asked Martinez if the shot came from the backseat of Batchelder’s car, where he sat with Limon and the fourth man, and he said, “I believe so.”
Martinez said that Batchelder seemed surprised by the gunshot and responded by saying something to the effect of, “What the f---,” a couple of times.
The victim, Cruz-Espino, was shot once in the neck as he sat in his white Dodge Neon waiting for the light to change to green at the intersection, according to police reports. Cruz-Espino died later that day at a regional hospital.
His cousin, Jaime Mejia, testified Monday that he was sitting in the passenger seat of Cruz-Espino’s Neon when the shooting happened.
Mejia said he and the victim were driving back to his cousin’s house in Tracy from Modesto when they stopped at the intersection and he heard a boom.
“Stopped to wait for the light,” Mejia said. “I was changing music on my phone. I was looking down; after five to 10 seconds, I heard a big shot. I didn’t know what it was. I felt something on my face and turned back to my cousin to say what happened, seen he was bleeding.”
Mejia said he saw an Impala in the adjacent lane — identified by police as Batchelder’s car — leave at a high rate of speed.
Another driver at the intersection at the time of the shooting, Katrina Miravite Adams, testified that she was waiting at the light as she traveled east on Whispering Wind Drive.
“I didn’t know what it was,” she said, referring to the gunshot. “I saw one car drifting through the intersection and another going slow through the intersection.”
She identified the victim’s car from a photograph provided by Ott, but said she couldn’t remember if the photo of Batchelder’s car was the same car at the shooting. She described the shooter’s car as a light colored four-door.
During cross-examination, Adams told Batchelder’s attorney that she didn’t see the shooting because she had turned to talk to one of her children in the backseat of her car. Adams heard the pop, but she couldn’t tell where it came from.
The hearing is scheduled to continue Tuesday, June 12, at 9 a.m. in Department 14 of the Stockton courthouse.
Preliminary almost delayed
Prior to the start of the preliminary, Limon’s attorney, public defender Miriam Lyell told Judge Carter Holly that she was dismissed by Limon. She said Limon’s family had retained Hudson to represent him.
Hudson asked the judge if he could get a continuance, because he hadn’t received the discovery on the case until Wednesday, June 6. He said he wasn’t ready to defend his client, and that he wouldn’t be until June 26 at the earliest.
When asked how he felt about a continuance, Rien said the only concern he had with a delay was the testimony Martinez was expected to provide. He said with Martinez was being held in custody, he wanted his comments preserved to help his defense.
Rien suggested they let Martinez testify, and continue the hearing for the remaining witnesses.
Ott argued that he didn’t want to wait, because of all the witnesses he had lined up to testify. He also noted that it was a preliminary hearing to see if the defendants would be held accountable and not a trial, so it wasn’t necessary to delay.
“This is a serious case and the people have a right to go forward in a timely manner,” Ott said.
The judge denied Hudson’s request for a continuance.