Defense expert witness rebuts prosecution's version of car-to-car shooting

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Mar. 12—The defense began presenting its case on Thursday in a jury trial of a man charged with murder and two counts of attempted murder in a car-to-car shooting.

An expert witness said shots from the defendants' car at the victims' car could not have come from a person standing outside the sunroof as the prosecution previously alleged.

Avery Sanchez, 22, has been in custody since May 2019 for his alleged involvement in a shooting on Highway 70 that left Alejandro Escobar, 38, dead. There were two other people in the car with Escobar — one other person was injured.

Vivion Wallace, 23, and Juan Barajas were also charged for their involvement in the shooting. Wallace is serving 62 years to life in state prison after pleading guilty to murder and two counts of attempted murder. Barajas pleaded no contest to being an accessory to the murder as the driver of the car. Barajas is scheduled to be sentenced in April. Wallace and Barajas testified for the prosecution earlier in the week.

Wallace and Sanchez allegedly shot at the other car when Barajas pulled the car alongside the victims' car. Chief Deputy District Attorney Shiloh Sorbello said in his opening argument that Wallace shot from the back passenger window and Sanchez shot as he stood outside the car's sunroof.

On Thursday, defense attorney Roberto Marquez called forensic scientist Chris Coleman to the stand. Coleman has worked for multiple law enforcement agency crime labs and is an expert in ballistics and shooting incident reconstruction. Marquez hired Coleman to review Department of Justice reports that analyzed the shooting.

Coleman said the DOJ report was missing key measurements that would have provided a clearer picture of the angles of trajectory of the bullet holes in the victims' car. He said all the trajectories of the bullets were no more than 15 degrees. A shot from the sunroof down to the other car if they were traveling side by side separated by two to four feet would have had a trajectory of about 45 degrees.

"The shots could not have originated from the top of the car," Coleman said.

Coleman also said it was his opinion that all the shots came from one gun.

During cross-examination, Sorbello attempted to undermine the credibility of Coleman as a witness by pointing out that Coleman had not done his own reconstruction but was looking over the work done by DOJ and giving his opinion. Coleman admitted that while the shell casings found at the scene were consistent with one type of gun they could have come from any gun of the same caliber.

Coleman said under questioning from Sorbello that it was difficult to determine the shooting positions based on the report from the DOJ.

"We don't have enough information," Coleman said.

Prior to testifying in front of the jury, Coleman took the stand as part of a hearing about discovery compliance. Judge Julia Scrogin ruled that Marquez was not in compliance because he failed to provide to the prosecution all documents related to Coleman as a witness — specifically Coleman's notes on his analysis of the DOJ's findings.

"There is a failure to comply with discovery compliance laws," Scrogin said.

Marquez argued that he did not intend to call Coleman until he heard testimony from the prosecution's expert witnesses.

"This is not sandbagging," said Marquez referencing Sorbello's characterization of the situation.

Scrogin allowed Coleman to testify in front of the jury but before Coleman began, she instructed the jury about Marquez's failure to produce discovery in a timely fashion.

Closing arguments will begin at 10 a.m. today (Friday), according to Sorbello.

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