SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Two alleged gang members accused in the Halloween 2007 retaliation slaying of a man in San Diego's Skyline neighborhood should be acquitted of murder charges because prosecutors lack the evidence to convict them, their attorneys told jurors Monday.
Michael Jay Aguon, 24, and Rafael Meraz, 20, are charged in the death of 32-year-old Vidal Balderas Jr., who was shot six times as he returned to his Coolwater Drive home after taking his daughter trick-or-treating on Oct. 31, 2007.
A confidential informant testified during a preliminary hearing last year that Aguon bragged about the shooting two days after Balderas was killed.
The informant alleged that Aguon said he and two "homeboys" went to the victim's home seeking revenge for an incident 10 days earlie,r in which Meraz was beat up and had a gun taken away by Balderas. The victim and his brother allegedly attacked Meraz for shouting and flashing gang signs.
Meraz was 15 at the time of the shooting, but is being prosecuted as an adult.
The defendant may be a gang member, may have had guns and may have gotten into a fight with the victim 10 days before he was murdered, but he's not a killer, said defense attorney Jane Gilbert.
A search of Meraz's home after the murder turned up no gun, but police did find a bandana and a skeleton mask, which some witnesses said was worn by one of the killers, Gilbert told the jury.
Gilbert said the mask had Meraz's DNA on it, but the bandana did not.
She said a 12-year-old trick-or-treater who was shown the skeleton mask found in Meraz's home failed to identity it as one worn by the men who shot Balderas.
The defense attorney told jurors that another eyewitness said he saw a black man running from the crime. Neither Meraz nor Aguon are black.
Aguon's attorney, Bart Sheela, told jurors in his opening statement that his client was a "lucky man" because his family members will testify that he was home helping his grandmother hand out candy on Halloween 2007.
Sheela said the informant in the case had convictions for check forgery and identity theft and made up the story of Aguon confessing to the murder.
Both defendants face 50 years to life behind bars if convicted, said prosecutor Christopher Lawson.