Testimony by the girlfriend of slain Los Gatos restaurateur Mark Achilli was postponed Tuesday as a former friend of the man accused of the murder took the stand for the second day in a row in Santa Clara County Superior Court.
The trial against Esequiel "Paul" Garcia, Miguel Chaidez, and Lucio Estrada is now in its third week. All three men have been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of Achilli, who owned the popular downtown Los Gatos nightspot Mountain Charley's saloon and the adjacent 180 Restaurant until 2007, when he sold them to Garcia.
Achilli, 53, was gunned down in the driveway of his Overlook Road townhouse on the morning of March 14, 2008.
All three defendants face life in prison if convicted.
The prosecution claims Achilli's death is the result of a love triangle that led to a case of murder-for-hire.
Garcia was in love with Tessa Donnelly, a 29-year-old woman both Achilli and Garcia had dated, and orchestrated Achilli's murder because she ultimately chose him over Garcia, prosecutor Jeff Rosen said.
Garcia was assisted by Daniel Chaidez, a cousin of Miguel Chaidez and a bouncer at Mountain Charley's, who was paid $9,500 in two separate payments for the job, Rosen sadi. Miguel Chaidez then contacted Estrada in Southern California and paid him to kill Achilli, he said.
The defense, however, says the case is about a drug debt collection and that Daniel Chaidez was using Garcia as a scapegoat. Daniel Chaidez later pleaded guilty to a voluntary manslaughter charge in exchange for testifying against Miguel Chaidez.
During intense cross-examination today, Joey Battiato, a friend and former roommate of Garcia, told Garcia's attorney, Harry Robertson, that he feared for the safety of his family because of the attention the case has received in the media.
He accused Robertson of placing him in a situation "where people can pick me out of a crowd."
Meanwhile, in an apparent attempt to chip away at Battiato's credibility, Robertson interrogated him about why he didn't immediately tell police about Garcia's threats against Achilli.
"This is my first murder... I wasn't in the right frame of mind to speak to anyone," Battiato answered.
Robertson was referring to an interview Battiato gave an investigator following the murder in which he had become "shocked and stunned" and asked if he needed a lawyer when Daniel Chaidez's name was brought up.
When Robertson questioned his truthfulness in that interview, Battiato said he felt he was being made an accomplice and was not able to answer the investigator's questions honestly.
He said Garcia had made threats in 2007 against not only Garcia, but also another man who owed him money. He said when Garcia talked about Achilli, he appeared calm and used one-liners.
Battiato, who said he was a casual friend of Achilli's, said he had been asked by Garcia to stalk Donnelly on at least 20 different occasions. Battiato said Garcia had asked him to arrange a meeting with Achilli and Donnelly in which Garcia planned to confront Donnelly.
He said while Garcia became "obsessed" with Donnelly to the point of "smothering her," giving her a DVD player and a big screen TV in the first three months of their relationship, Donnelly withdrew and even denied him sex for long periods of time.
Battiato said Donnelly started hiding her phone from him after he went through her text messages.
The trial will continue Wednesday with more testimony from Battiato, followed by Donnelly.
Bay City News