Opening statements began Friday in the second trial for two alleged gang members accused of killing a rival gang member Jesse "Dizzy" Lara in Lompoc on June 6, 2015.
In 2016, a jury found Dequan Matthews and Edward Carter -- alleged members of Six-Deuce-Brims (62Brims) -- not guilty of first-degree murder but were hopelessly deadlocked on the lesser charges of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.
The pair, along with fellow 62Brims member Damian Simpson and a juvenile referred to as Mr. B were in the silver Neon, which was outfitted with eyelashes and pink rims and was borrowed by Carter the night alleged VLP member Lara died. They drove down North M Street when they encountered some VLP members and a fight quickly ensued.
Autopsy reports showed that Lara was stabbed eight times, reportedly by Matthews. A knife tip had broken off as a result of the stabbing.
In his opening statements, Deputy District Attorney Lynmarc Jenkins painted the picture of the situation being a "brutally simple case" about gang warfare between VLP, a primarily Hispanic organization, and 62Brims, made up primarily of African Americans.
Lara's murder was carried out for violence, gang intimidation and control, said Jenkins, adding that it is common in gang culture to retaliate when disrespected.
"In childhood terms, 'tit for tat,' but the 'tat' always has to be greater than your original disrespect," Jenkins told the jury. "You're here because (in) June 2015, a group of VLP members jumped Mr. Carter with a stick as he was outrun."
"Mr. Carter, as a 62Brims member, cannot let that go without payback," he argued.
Jenkins also pointed out that Carter's Facebook status posted after he was jumped read "I'm comin' fo' dat ass #VLPK."
Later that night, Jenkins said, Carter drove past VLP members and got out of the vehicle.
"Maybe he planned to kill, or assault, but either way, it's probable because of gang culture," he argued, adding that co-defendant Matthews reportedly changed his story twice, later admitting he tried to defend himself.
Mr. B, who agreed to testify for the prosecution, gave five different statements, according to Jenkins, but finally admitted he saw Matthews stab Lara multiple times. After the fight, Carter fled, according to Jenkins, who argued the remaining three got back into the car until a white truck, carrying VLP members, crashed into them. They then reportedly ditched the car in an alley, where police officials later found the vehicle along with the knife wrapped in a red handkerchief in a nearby dumpster.
Lara's DNA was found on the blood on Matthew's pants, and on the knife, along with Matthew's DNA.
"Once you understand gang concept and establish the fact these men are 62Brims members, at the end of the case, I'm going to ask you to return a verdict of guilty for Mr. Carter and Mr. Matthews for murder," Jenkins finished.
In his opening arguments, David Bixby, who is representing Matthews, advised the jury that it was up to them to decide whether the situation was borne out of "gang-related" culture, or that four young men were simply on their way to a party when a tragic death occurred as a result of having to defend themselves from VLP members who rushed at them.
"No one's going to tell you you're dealing with choir boys," said Bixby, who argued that Matthews, as a young black man, was routinely stopped by police officers, was jumped in high school and stabbed in eighth grade.
Two weeks prior to Lara's death, Matthews was jumped again and had a couple teeth knocked out, which spurred him to begin carrying a weapon to protect himself, according to Bixby.
In Bixby's opening arguments, he outlined the events of June 6, when he said Matthews and another friend went to Arbor Square to get cocaine for a party before returning to a friend's house. As they drove, a beer can was allegedly thrown at the car, nearly missing Matthews' head. After stopping the car, the fight ensued.
Matthews' knife fell down his pants, so he reached down to get it, and flashed it to ward off his attackers, according to Bixby.
Fearing that Lara was armed, Matthews stabbed him "until he felt Lara was no longer a threat," Bixby said.
"It's nothing like how Mr. B told it," Bixby argued. "The wounds were random. You can envision this: He stabbed him just enough to ward him off. By then, Matthews sees more VLP's had amassed, and runs."
Furthermore, despite being the prosecution's star witness, Mr. B's stories are riddled with inaccuracy, Bixby argued.
"This was not a gang rumble," he said. "Yes, you bet VLP were involved. But do you think they looked for a fight, or were they assaulted? Lara set the stage for the incident by attacking Matthews who had a knife, but Lara still kept coming at him."
"It's a sad, senseless outcome but, nonetheless, our evidence will show that it was in self-defense, not murder," Bixby finished.
Testimony resumes Tuesday afternoon.