A 24-year-old man was directly involved in the fatal shooting of an Orange County drug dealer in an attack ordered by a prison inmate, a prosecutor said this week.
The defendant’s attorney though said his client was only along for the ride and had little to do with the killing, which San Diego County Sheriff’s investigators helped probe.
Augustine Velazquez, 24, faces charges of murder, conspiracy to commit a crime, burglary and attempted robbery, all felonies. He also faces a special circumstance allegation of murder during a robbery.
A judge though dismissed sentencing enhancements for gang activity in the Jan. 19, 2017, killing of Robert Rios, 35, in Placentia.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue concluded that an Orange County sheriff’s deputy, who testified during a preliminary hearing as a gang expert, was dishonest about his training regarding booking of evidence.
The ruling curtailed the case against Velazquez, and in the opening statements of the trial jurors did not hear mention of co-defendant Johnny Martinez.
Martinez, the reputed Orange County chief of the Mexican Mafia, was accused of masterminding the attack on Rios while behind bars.
Martinez, 45, will go on trial later along with co-defendants Gregory Munoz, 33, Ysrael Cordova, 36, and Ricardo Valenzuela, 41.
Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Dave Porter told jurors that Munoz, who was also in prison at the time, coordinated the attack on Rios.
Co-defendant Charles Frederick Coghill, 37, is scheduled to be tried separately and will be a witness for the prosecution in Velazquez’s trial.
Rios was “savagely beaten” when Velazquez, Cordova and Valenzuela showed up his home, Porter said. Coghill drove the defendants.
Velazquez was shot in the leg during the scrum with Rios, who fought back, Porter said. Coghill dropped Velazquez off at his home, and the defendant called a friend to give him a ride to a hospital in San Diego.
The doctors alerted San Diego County sheriff’s deputies. Velazquez told them a “despicable” lie that an “unidentified male Black carrying a MAC-10 semi-automatic firearm attempted to rob him,” Porter alleged.
Investigators, however, later pieced together the truth and discovered Rios’ blood on Velazquez’s jacket.
Defense attorney Rob Harley said the crew went to Rios’ home where Rios and another man sold drugs and set up an “elaborate” surveillance system to alert them when police approached, Harley said.
The two thought the three men “were another group of customers,” Harley said.
Munoz was in the business of pushing drugs from behind bars, Harley said. Coghill was Munoz’s “right-hand man,” he added.
Coghill recruited Cordova, Valenzuela and two other women, who were “secretaries,” Harley said.
Velazquez at the time was 20 years old and was only involved because Coghill was a neighbor and had helped him earlier that day to get parts to repair a car.
Velazquez “number one, was not the shooter and, number two, never intended to kill anybody” when he went along for the drive to Rios’ house, Harley said.