Trial begins for men accused of gang murders
SAN DIEGO — Two gang members are responsible for the shooting deaths of two young men who were killed years apart in La Mesa as part of an violent gang feud, a prosecutor told jurors Monday, while defense attorneys alleged the prosecution cut deals with several witnesses to implicate their clients, who are only guilty of being gang members.
Donte Haddock and Anthony Frank, both 27, are charged with the murders of Xusha Brown Jr., 22, on May 5, 2013, and Darris Walker, 20, on April 30, 2011. They face life imprisonment without the possibility of parole if convicted of the murder counts, as well as several special circumstance allegations.
Their trial is expected to take six to eight weeks.
A third defendant, 29-year-old Alaeante Eason, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and awaits sentencing in August.
Deputy District Attorney Sophia Roach told jurors in her opening statement that the defendants both fired on Walker as he sat alone in the back seat of a car parked in the lot of a restaurant on Alvarado Road. Roach said text messages from Frank’s phone on the day Walker was slain show that another gang member urged them to commit a killing “within 48 hours.”
“Two years later, they would kill again,” Roach said, this time allegedly shooting Brown, a member of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation. The prosecutor said Brown was an unintended target who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Brown was riding in a car on eastbound Interstate 8 in La Mesa when someone inside a silver or light gray sedan opened fire, hitting him in in the head and wounding the driver, Malcolm Hune, according to the prosecutor. Roach said the car belonged to Haddock, who she said was driving while Frank allegedly emptied a pistol into the vehicle with the intention of killing Hune.
The prosecutor said that car could be seen on surveillance footage circling a gas station where Hune and Brown were fueling up just before the shooting. Days afterward, the car was posted on Craigslist for sale, presumably in an attempt to get rid of the evidence, Roach said.
The prosecutor alleged that Frank told some witnesses that he killed Brown, while text messages implicated Haddock in the killing.
Haddock’s attorney, Jane Kinsey, said her client was staying with a woman on the night of Brown’s killing, which she said would be corroborated by the woman and several other witnesses. She also said that on the night of Walker’s killing, Haddock’s cell phone showed he was nowhere near the shooting scene.
Kinsey told jurors that the prosecution could not definitively prove her client’s involvement in either shooting, and thus would spend much of the trial focusing on his gang affiliation and the protracted gang feud to distract from the real issues at hand.
“Don’t get bogged down in a lot of the side events,” Kinsey said. “The gang feud is not the issue. The question is whether this young man is guilty of these crimes.”
Frank’s attorney, Richard Jayakumar, claimed Eason — in a bid to raise his standing within the gang — was actually the man who killed Brown. Jayakumar said Eason and Hune had previous issues with each other, culminating in Eason’s attempt on Hune’s life, which “tragically” resulted in Brown’s killing.
Jayakumar also argued that there was no physical evidence tying Frank to Brown’s murder and called the investigation against his client “flawed and misdirected” and based on “lies and rumors.”
In the case of Walker’s murder, Jayakumar said his client and the victim were friends, and that Frank would have no motive for killing Walker.
Eason, Haddock and Frank were arrested in 2016. Haddock and Frank also face charges of attempted premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit murder, with an allegation that the murder was carried out to benefit a street gang.