The prosecution began closing arguments Wednesday in the retrial of two men accused of murdering a 29-year-old Lompoc man.
Edward Dion Carter and Dequan Jahlil Matthews are charged with killing Jesse "Dizzy" Lara, a high-ranking member of rival gang "VLP," who was stabbed to death in a fight in the 400 block of North M Street in Lompoc in June 2015.
The pair were acquitted in 2016 of first-degree and a mistrial was declared in the two lesser offenses of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. Their retrial began in November.
During the retrial, Deputy District Attorney Lynmarc Jenkins argued the attack was carried out intentionally for gang warfare. Carter, Matthews and two others -- Damian Simpson and an unnamed juvenile named Mr. B -- were reportedly driving in VLP territory the night of Lara's death.
Mr. B was originally charged in the case but ended up testifying for the prosecution.
Previous testimony stated that the four men turned their car around after one of the VLP members threw a beer can at the car. Shortly after, a fight ensued between the two groups.
"Do you get to kill someone who threw a beer at you? Jenkins asked the jury. "Seems a bit much, doesn't it? This is not a manslaughter case -- this is a murder case."
Carter was driving in the neighborhood looking for revenge after being attacked some time prior, said Jenkins, pointing to his social media posts that referenced killing VLP members. While Matthews is the one accused of wielding the 9-inch knife that was used to stab Lara eight times, Carter is "just as legally responsible, as an aider and abettor," Jenkins said.
"Gangs are the scourge of these neighborhoods and prevent families from living normal lives, and they cause senseless murder," the prosecutor said. Rivals kill each other to gain respect and fear. Simpson and Carter were known gang members, and Matthews himself also associated with gangs, and "had been putting in work" for a long time to join the gang 62Brims, Jenkins added.
Both defendants denied any involvement multiple times, Jenkins said, and "when they're caught in a lie, they change their stories again."
There are two versions of what happened that night -- a reasonable one told by Mr. B, and an unreasonable one told by the defendants, he continued. While Mr. B in the beginning did lie to protect his co-defendants, he eventually told detectives that Carter wanted to exact revenge and attack.
According to Mr. B's recollection of the fight, Carter and Matthews took on a VLP member each, with Mr. B coming to help Carter because he was losing, Jenkins said. Mr. B later saw Matthews making uppercut motions at Lara, "which are accurate and consistent with his stab wounds."
"Matthews lies about holding the knife and punching three people in the face, and at the same time, he falls," Jenkins said. Later, Matthews changes his story, "that he had the knife in the front of his pants, and fights off one person."
"Then Matthews' knife falls, so he grabs it to pick it up but slips and falls, and then the men attack him." There is a blood stain found on one knee of Matthews' pants, Jenkins added. "If he slipped, it was after the fight. No other stains were on his pants."
The pair ultimately committed murder but changed their stories "to get away with it," by feigning self-defense, Jenkins claimed. Furthermore, "personal fear isn't enough to kill, but the fear must be reasonable and threat must be immediate. There is no right to kill unless fear is the reason someone acts.
"In addition, there's no right to self-defense if parties are engaged in mutual combat.
"Homicide is justifiable when there is an imminent danger that the other person will kill or cause great bodily injury," he added. That night, Matthews was the only one armed, and he didn't use reasonable force for the killing to be justifiable homicide.
"You determine what's excessive," Jenkins said to the jury. "You stab until the threat is gone -- he pierced his heart, lungs; Lara can't breathe.
"Lara tried to escape, but Matthews held him by the hood," he continued. Mr. B saw Lara bend down, and more stabs followed.
At that point, "he's not a threat," Jenkins argued. "There's no need to stab more.
"When the threat ends, your right to self-defense ends."
The autopsy conducted by forensic pathologist Dr. Manuel Montez, revealed that Lara had no defensive wounds. Lara sustained four stab wounds to vital organs -- the heart, diaphragm, spleen and lung, which were consistent with Matthews' intent "to make sure the job was done." The first two wounds were fatal, Jenkins said.
"This was never intended to be a fistfight -- you don't go into rival territory and take your time," he said. "You do it fast before police show up. It's a hit-and-run raid.
"Jump in, stab as fast as you can, and leave. It was intended that way from the beginning."