Oroville >> The trial of two Sonoma County men charged with murder for the 2013 shooting death of their purported accomplice in an alleged bungled marijuana robbery began Friday at the Butte County Superior Courthouse.
Salvador Trejo, 48, of Santa Rosa, and Yonatan Tesfazghi, 23, of Sebastopol, are charged with murder in the death of Hector Gabriel, their alleged accomplice in a November 2013 Palermo home invasion. The defendants are accused of murder, attempted home invasion robbery and first-degree residential burglary. The murder charges stem from an alleged attempt to perpetrate a home invasion robbery to steal 150 pounds of marijuana that the prosecution says resulted in Gabriel’s death.
The trial began Friday morning with attorneys delivering opening statements and several witnesses, including a forensic pathologist as well as family members of the decedent, testifying before the jury.
The prosecutor, Marc Noel, said to the jury Friday that the case is complex — in part because neither of the defendants shot Gabriel and one was not present at the alleged home invasion— but that the basic facts of the case, the causes, effects and responsibilities, are not.
Gabriel died Nov. 26, 2013 of a gunshot wound to the head after being shot by a resident of the home during the alleged home invasion. Tesfazghi was allegedly with Gabriel at that time while Trejo, who is accused of organizing the attempted home invasion, was not present at the scene.
While neither Trejo nor Tesfazghi shot Gabriel, they are responsible for his death, Noel said to the jury Friday morning during his opening statements. The men, this newspaper previously reported, have been charged with murder under the provocative act doctrine, which applies when someone commits an act that provokes another person into killing someone else.
Under that doctrine, a defendant knowingly engages in a life-threatening act that has a high probability of a third party responding with force. The prosecution must prove that Gabriel’s death was the “natural and probable” consequence of Trejo and Tesfazghi’s acts.
Tesfazghi’s attorney, Roberto Marquez, said to the jury Friday that if anyone is responsible for Gabriel’s death, it is Gabriel himself, and advised the jury to carefully consider witnesses, their backgrounds and if they might have anything to gain by testifying. At least two of the witnesses scheduled to testify are alleged to have had some involvement with the 2013 home invasion.
The prosecution and defense laid out their positions in the opening statements, and the jury also heard from the decedent’s mother, who provided information about the day of his death, forensic pathologist Dr. Thomas Resk, who performed the autopsy, multiple family members of the decedent as well as his wife Krystal Gabriel, who is currently in custody after pleading guilty to home invasion robbery.
The alleged home invasion took place Nov. 26, 2013, Noel said, after Gabriel, his wife Krystal, the defendants, and two others traveled to Butte County armed with the intent to go to the Palermo residence of Hector Rodriguez Ortiz and Zoila Rodriguez, where they lived with their four children, and take 150 pounds of marijuana that the couple had cultivated.
“They came with the intent to take that marijuana by force,” Noel said. “They didn’t come with money, they didn’t come with charm, they came with masks and guns.”
Noel said to the jury that on Nov. 26, 2013, after Hector Rodriguez had left to run an errand, Zoila Rodriguez, who was making lunch for her children, saw a car “race up her driveway” and saw three people wearing masks get out of the vehicle, at which point her son, Hector Jr., 24, put his mother and sister in a back bedroom and grabbed his father’s gun. He said that over the course of the trial, evidence will show that as Krystal Gabriel waited outside in the car, Hector Gabriel, who he alleged was the “lead man,” entered the residence with Tesfazghi and another man. At that point, Noel said, a gunfight ensued during which Hector Rodriguez Jr. shot Gabriel once in the arm, in what the pathologist said would be described as a ‘flesh wound,’ and once, fatally, in the head.
According to a previous article in this newspaper, shots were fired at the residence before 2 p.m., and arriving investigators discovered Hector Gabriel nonresponsive on the kitchen floor of the Palermo residence. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital at 5:16 p.m.
The attorneys’ opening statements and testimony from witnesses kicked off a trial that is expected to last about nine and ½ days. The defendants are also facing charges of attempted home invasion robbery and first-degree residential burglary.
The trial will resume Monday. Both defendants have pleaded not guilty on all counts. They remain in custody.