EL CAJON, Calif. (CNS) - An Alpine man who took part in a robbery in which a pair of liquor store clerks were killed was part of a "robbery team" that targeted the business, according to a prosecutor, while the defendant's lawyer told jurors he was coerced into participating.
The statements came at the start of a retrial for Anthony James Miller, who is charged with murder and a special circumstance allegation of murder during a robbery and multiple murders in connection with the March 1, 2006, fatal shootings of Heather Mattia and Firas Eiso at Granada Liquor in the 900 block of Broadway in El Cajon. The jury in a previous trial deadlocked.
Miller, 24, was not the shooter but under the law can be held just as responsible as the gunman, 27-year-old Jean Pierre Rices, who in August was sentenced to death.
Based on the opposing lawyers' version of events, jurors will be tasked with deciding whether Miller was a willing participant in the robbery.
Miller, Rices and Nichele Hopson were "a robbery team preparing for a robbery," Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Kaplan said in her opening statement.
Miller and Rices grew up "like brothers" and Miller considered Hopson a sister, Kaplan said.
They forced Mattia, 22, and Eiso, 23, back into the store at closing time and Rices ordered them face down on the floor at gunpoint, she said.
Miller's role was the "bagman," she said.
"Miller takes the bag, steps over the victims, and goes behind the counter," Kaplan said. "He takes what money is there, about $1,000."
He also took several packs of his brand of cigarettes, she said.
The prosecutor said video surveillance cameras show Rices conferring with Miller, who then leaves the store just before the victims are shot.
Defense attorney Daniel Mangarin told jurors Miller was closer to Hopson than Rices, but she began a romantic relationship with Rices shortly after he was released from a prison stint. The new couple moved into an apartment in central El Cajon and she became pregnant, he said.
Mangarin said on the night of the robbery, Rices invited Miller to see the apartment and, at Hopson's urging, they went out looking for something to do. After making a couple of stops, Rices directed them to Granada Liquor.
"Within a matter of seconds," Rices was confronting the victims with a handgun pulled out and he ordered Miller to put on a mask and go into the store, Mangarin said.
Rices had "a reputation," was armed and spoke with a voice that "had to be obeyed," according to the lawyer.
The surveillance video shows "a madman waving a gun around" while Miller "is fumbling at the cash register," Mangarin said.
His client didn't know a robbery was about to happen, that the victims would be shot, and he later declined a share of the loot, he said.
"What could he have been reasonably expected to do during those 90 to 200 seconds?" Mangarin asked.
The prosecution plans to show jurors a recording of police questioning Miller, who allegedly acknowledged that he shared responsibility for the deaths and told detectives he'd helped Rices rob convenience stores dating back to when he was 13 or 14 years old.
Prosecutors believe those statements are inconsistent with defense contentions that Miller was coerced.
Mangarin asked Judge Lantz Lewis to prevent those statements from being introduced because they're "inflammatory."
The judge indicated he would rule Monday on that point.
The trial is expected to last about two weeks. If convicted, Miller faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Hopson, 25, pleaded guilty to two counts of voluntary manslaughter for being the getaway driver that night and agreed to testify against Miller and Rices in exchange for a reduced sentence.
Thieves broke into a Mountain View family’s home and took their car, Christmas presents, family documents and money – all while the father fights stage four testicular cancer and his wife is eight months pregnant.
As the nation marked the sixth anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, San Diego clergy and community members on Friday came together to remember more than half-a-million Americans killed or injured by guns since the deadly shooting.
There is new information in one of the most notorious, unsolved murders in San Diego county. A new book written by the victim’s first cousin details the 1985 murder of Donna Gentile.
High clouds hovered over the county on Friday as subtropical moisture moved in ahead of a weak trough of low pressure. The return of high pressure over Southern California will bring a sunnier setup by the weekend.
California's lawsuit against a Trump administration plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. census moved closer to trial after a U.S. judge refused to throw out the challenge Friday.
San Diego Border Patrol on Friday announced agents arrested a group of undocumented immigrants after they jumped over a section of temporary barrier as photographers and media outlets filmed.
How many times a day do you pass a co-worker, say ‘hello,’ but not take the time to ask how they are feeling?
The "Top Nine" pictures you are seeing on Instagram is done through a website that scans your posts and profiles, but is this fun flashback safe? Eric Alvarez verifies where your information is going and why you might to think twice!
The city of San Diego will close Children's Pool beach Saturday in preparation of harbor seal pupping season, city officials announced Friday.
Your home's garage is probably filled with all types of things, but did you know some of the most common items found in garages should not be in there?