Jurors began deliberating Friday in the trial of two men charged with murder in the 2017 stabbing death of a Camp Pendleton Marine in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Jose Oscar Esqueda, 41, and Jeff Shai Holliday, 28, are accused in the killing of 21-year-old Ryan Harris, as well as the wounding of another Marine, Andrew Haulman, who was stabbed twice during a downtown brawl.
Esqueda is accused of stabbing both victims, while Holliday is accused of sucker punching a different Marine, which prosecutors allege sparked the fatal melee.
The men are being tried by dual jury panels, each of which are assigned to decide a single defendant’s fate.
Deputy District Attorney Christopher Lawson told jurors the defendants were wandering the Gaslamp around 1 a.m. Dec 29, 2017, looking for victims, a pattern he said was exhibited in a pair of would-be robberies the men took part in earlier in the year.
The prosecutor alleged the men cased the downtown area for a potential victim before settling on Christopher De Herrera, who was by himself at the corner of Island and Sixth avenues.
As seen on surveillance footage, Esqueda and De Herrera exchanged words, after which Holliday punched De Herrera in the head from behind. Four of De Herrera’s fellow Marines witnessed the altercation and ran over to intervene, leading to the stabbings of Harris and Haulman.
Defense attorneys allege the fight was sparked by De Herrera asking Esqueda, “Where you from?” a common gang challenge that typically precedes violence.
Esqueda’s attorney, Zaki Zahawi, said the statement was taken as a serious threat of potential violence, though Lawson alleged the evidence did not show that De Herrera actually said the words, nor that they would justify the fight that followed.
Once the other Marines joined the fray, Zahawi said Esqueda tried to run, but was grabbed by Haulman, who began throwing punches.
The attorney said Esqueda then used the knife to lawfully defend himself. Harris was stabbed in the throat, while Haulman suffered wounds to his chest and back.
Along with the fatal stabbing, the men are charged with robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery in two separate incidents that occurred in Pacific Beach and Chula Vista earlier that year. The pair are accused of stealing a bicycle from a couple in Pacific Beach on April 15 and accosting shoppers on April 29 at the Chula Vista mall.
Lawson alleged their behavior in those incidents mirrored their prowling of the Gaslamp Quarter in December, though Zawahi and Holliday’s attorney, Abram Genser, said there was no evidence to suggest the men were “on the hunt” for victims while they were walking around downtown.
Esqueda has been to prison twice and Holliday was on probation for a 2014 stabbing, according to Lawson.
City News Service contributed to this article.