SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A state appeals court panel Monday upheld the convictions of an ex-con who opened fire in the Gaslamp Quarter four years ago, wounding an off-duty sheriff’s deputy and a bystander in the process.
Ray Pitoau was sentenced to 71 years to life in state prison for the Aug. 7, 2017, shooting that injured Deputy Jason Philpot, who was walking through downtown with his two brothers following a Metallica concert at Petco Park. Also injured was bystander Vladimir Shvets, a passerby who was in San Diego for a convention.
Pitoau was convicted by a San Diego jury of two counts of assault with a firearm for shooting Philpot and Shvets, as well as a lesser charge of assault involving the deputy’s younger sibling, Joshua. He received the lengthy sentence due to numerous prior convictions for crimes dating back to 1991, including burglary, assault, and being a felon in possession of ammunition.
Prosecutors said Philpot and his group walked past Pitoau, who got into an argument with the deputy’s sibling on Island Avenue near Sixth Avenue just after 1 a.m.
Pitoau testified that he pulled out a gun in self-defense because a group of men, including Jason Philpot, were advancing on him. He testified that he and the deputy both grabbed onto the gun, leading it to fire as they grappled over the weapon.
Jason Philpot testified that he tried to wrap his arms around Pitoau and get the gun away, but the defendant was able to pull the trigger, wounding the deputy in the chest and right arm. One of the rounds ricocheted off the sidewalk and struck Shvets.
Pitoau was arrested about a month later in Mexico. He was tried three times in the case, with the first two juries deadlocking on the assault counts before he was convicted in late 2019.
On appeal, Pitoau’s attorney argued that jurors should have been instructed by the judge regarding what verdict to render if they found Pitoau fired the gun accidentally. The trial judge denied the defense’s request to include such an instruction, ruling it was unnecessary.
A three-justice panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal agreed, writing that by finding Pitoau guilty, “the jury necessarily found that he acted `willfully,’ `willingly,’ `on purpose,’ and `intentionally’ — that is, he did not act accidentally. Thus, the failure to instruct on accident was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”
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