Jurors have already heard opening statements in the San Mateo County Superior Court trial of a 19-year-old man accused of murdering a Carlmont High School senior at a party in 2008.
There is no question that Ricardo Garcia, now 19, fatally shot 17-year-old Solomone Zarate on Sept. 13, 2008, Garcia's defense attorney Charles Smith said, but whether the killing was murder or voluntary manslaughter remains up to jurors.
Prosecutors allege that Zarate and Garcia were members of rival street gangs and got involved in a fight at a party on Columbia Avenue near El Camino Real in unincorporated San Mateo County's North Fair Oaks area that night.
"This is a very simple case," prosecutor Al Giannini said. "This is a murder, plain and simple."
Zarate, a 5-foot-10-inch who weighed 255 pounds and an alleged member of the Heller Street Tongan street gang, decided to "check," or challenge, an opposing gang member at the party, Giannini said.
He picked a suspected member of the North Fair Oaks gang, of which Garcia also allegedly belonged, according to Giannini.
When Garcia saw his friend fighting with Zarate, he "jumped in immediately," Giannini said, "to be the biggest, baddest gangster."
By this time there were people gathering outside the party watching the fight in the street, with some egging them on and others trying to pull the fighters apart.
"And out comes the gun," Giannini said.
The prosecutor said Garcia pulled out his gun and fired one wild shot that hit the ground, but quickly pulled the trigger again, this time hitting Zarate.
"Nobody expected Mr. Garcia to produce a gun and just open up in a crowd of people," Giannini said. "But Mr. Garcia brought him down."
Giannini said Zarate "staggered" to a nearby vehicle and Garcia followed him and continued shooting.
"Mr. Garcia came up to him while he was helpless and shot him again, and again, and again," Giannini said. "He emptied his revolver into Mr. Zarate."
Smith said Garcia continued shooting at Zarate because he was scared Zarate had a weapon of his own. He said Garcia knew Zarate was part of the Heller Street group and that they had posted pictures of weapons on popular social networking websites including MySpace.
"When Ricky went to help his friend, he was scared," Smith said. "He was absolutely no match physically for the Tongan group, but he knew he had a gun," he said.
Smith acknowledged that Garcia, who sat quietly in court today dressed in a black suit, his skin pale and short black hair gelled in place, is responsible for shooting Zarate.
But the killing was voluntary manslaughter, not murder, Smith said. Voluntary manslaughter, he said, is imperfect self-defense.
Garcia fled but surrendered to the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office within days.
Zarate's aunt Kim Johnson-Lao, who is married to Zarate's father's brother, said outside court this morning that her nephew was "a polite boy (who) always had a smile on his face."
She said she helped raise Zarate since he was a baby, and that he wasn't involved in a gang.
"He wasn't a violent kid," Johnson-Lao said. "He was a little kid in a big boy's body."
According to Johnson-Lao, Zarate was very close to his father and the rest of their family.
"What a shame to die like that, for nothing," she said. "How cold to shoot somebody as they lay in the street."
Smith said that Garcia will testify in his own defense during the trial.