Gang killing trial starts

The first-degree murder trial of Benito Gomez is expected to last several days

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WALLA WALLA -- A nine-man three-woman jury was selected Tuesday afternoon to decide the fate of a man accused of killing a rival gang member and shooting at other people in a confrontation a year ago in the west end of town.

Opening statements were then presented this morning and testimony began in the Superior Court trial of Benito Gomez at the County Courthouse. The proceedings are expected to last several days.

Gomez, 19, is charged with first-degree murder and six counts of first-degree assault with firearm enhancements.

He is accused of the premeditated killing of Julio Cesar Martinez, 20, who was shot twice in the head about 6 p.m. May 17, 2011, in an alley in the 300 block of Myrtle Street.

The assault charges allege Gomez shot at two other rival gang members, two people in the alley not identified as members of a gang and into an adjacent apartment occupied by two people.

Martinez died later that night at Providence St. Mary Medical Center.

Police say the killing -- the first gang-related homicide in the city -- occurred when what apparently was anticipated to be a more-routine turf battle turned deadly.

Gomez and three fellow gang members allegedly gathered to fight rivals.

The four covered their faces with bandannas and approached the rivals, according to witness statements to police.

As they were preparing to fight, Gomez drew a handgun and fired several times, officials said. Martinez was struck in the head by two bullets. Other victims fled, as did the suspect.

The murder weapon wasn't found. Although some who were there to fight may have been armed with rocks, a knife, a bat or a metal bar, apparently only one gun was involved.

The trial, presided over by Judge Donald W. Schacht, is being held under tight security.

Also, several supporters of Gomez have staged demonstrations outside the courthouse in recent days.

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