Attorneys rested their cases Wednesday afternoon in the second trial of a fatal stabbing of a rival gang member in Lompoc that occurred nearly three years ago.
In 2016, a jury found Dequan Matthews and Edward Carter not guilty of first-degree murder but were deadlocked on the lesser charges of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. Their retrial began two months ago in the Santa Maria Superior Court.
Attorneys Brian Carroll and David Bixby are representing Carter and Matthews, respectively, with Deputy District Attorney Lynmarc Jenkins prosecuting the pair.
Rival VLP gang member Jesse "Dizzy" Lara died following a fight that ensued near North M Street in Lompoc on the night of June 6, 2015. Lara was reportedly stabbed eight times by Matthews. A knife tip had broken off as a result of the stabbing.
During both trials, the prosecution maintained the slaying was planned and carried out due to gang warfare between VLP and 62Brims, which Carter and Matthews reportedly associated with.
Throughout testimony, their attorneys maintained the pair weren't looking for a fight and acted in self-defense when a group of gang members rushed at them, while the prosecution alleged that the defendants changed their story after being arrested.
On Wednesday afternoon, the defense's final witness Chuck Rylant -- an expert in fight-or-flight human reaction and use of deadly force -- took the stand. Rylant is a retired police detective, former SWAT team member and now an instructor at Hancock College who opined at the first trial that Matthews had the lawful right to use deadly force during the July 6 altercation.
Under defense questioning, Rylant explained that those that are involved in combative, high-stress or life-threatening situations often take on a fight-or-flight response, which occurs when the body's nervous system is activated due to sudden release of chemicals that prepares the individual to either flee from imminent danger or be ready to fight.
"When the brain perceives some sort of danger, we subconsciously begin making changes inside our body to prepare us to engage or flee," Rylant said.
Danger can be perceived in many different ways by different people depending on each person's genetics, prior life events and experiences, he added. Two people given the same set of circumstances can have different perception of danger.
A trained Navy SEAL would have different reactions to a high-stress situation than "a little old lady," for example, Rylant said.
The fight-or-flight response often distorts an individual's concept of time and impairs their memory after the event, he said, and makes the person often believe an event lasted a lot longer than it actually did.
Jenkins questioned Rylant's choice to testify for the defense, and also pointed out that Matthews changed his story after his first interview with him.
"You're not exactly an unbiased witness in this case right -- you're a defense investigator, and you're also here being an expert for [the defense]," Jenkins said.
"I'm paid by them, yes," Rylant answered.
Jenkins also pointed out the first interview Rylant had with Matthews, during which Matthews had lied about what happened June 6, stating that "[Matthews] said he had a knife in his hand and was punching multiple people for three minutes," when he saw Carter in a fight with VLP members.
"From a fighting expert, does that make any sense at all to you?" Jenkins asked. "Did that story make any sense -- that Matthews is supposedly holding this nine-inch blade, punching people in the face? You understand he was lying to you, right?
"Why didn't you call him out?"
Rylant replied that after conferring with Matthews' attorney, he later deduced that Matthews' statements had many variances and asked the same questions in different ways to get the truth.
Just before trial, Matthews finally admitted what happened, Rylant said.
"I asked him to be sure. If I didn't believe something, I definitely called him on it."
"But your role is, as [defense] investigator, your role isn't to search for the truth," Jenkins countered.
"That's not true -- I work for myself. I worked for both the prosecution and defense many times," Rylant said. "So if I'm lying or biased, I won't have a career. I search for the truth and very often I find the truth hurts the client more."
Under defense's questioning, Rylant said that after that initial statement where Matthews lied to him about what happened, Rylant never again noticed inconsistencies in his stories, in both the past and present trial.
"I confronted him just before trial, and Matthews admitted he didn't trust me at first, then finally said, here are some parts I didn't tell you about, and from that day on, I haven't noticed any changes in his statements," Rylant said.
Closing statements will be presented later this week.