Murder trial jury still out

Deliberations continued this morning in the trial of Benito Gomez, accused of killing Julio Cesar Martinez last year.

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WALLA WALLA -- The jury in the Benito Gomez murder and assault trial returned to the County Courthouse this morning about 8:40 a.m. to resume deliberations.

The nine-man three-woman panel discussed the case behind closed doors for about 51/2 hours Monday before separating for the night at about 5:30 p.m.

Verdicts had not been reached as of press time today.

Gomez is charged in Superior Court with first-degree murder, accusing him of the premeditated killing of rival gang member Julio Cesar Martinez. However, the jury has been given the alternative of considering the lesser charge of second-degree murder, which doesn't include an element of premeditation.

Gomez also is accused of six counts of first-degree assault.

In closing arguments at the trial Monday morning before the case was submitted to the jury, Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle told the panel the case can be summed up as follows:

"Benito Gomez brought a gun to a rock and a knife fight and he didn't even bother to tell the rest of his gang."

Nagle reminded the jury that Gomez's fellow gang members testified he was the masked shooter and two neighbors identified him as running from the scene. Also, the killing was a deliberate, intentional murder, Nagle said.

He argued it was premeditated, suggesting Gomez "formed the intent as early as when he met up (with his fellow gang members) at the corner of Myrtle and Sprague."

Nagle acknowledged some testimony at the trial was inconsistent, but maintained the prosecution's burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt had been met.

"You have to look at the big picture," he said.

Defense attorney Jerry Makus, on the other hand, chipped away at the prosecution's case, maintaining it had not been proven.

He told the jury that, although Gomez didn't testify, "My client denies he committed these crimes."

Makus said no physical evidence implicates Gomez and pointed out that DNA found on shell casings at the scene did not come from his client.

Makus also questioned the truthfulness of gang members who testified against Gomez, and pointed out that two victims who are not members of a gang described the shooter's body type as larger than that of Gomez, who is fairly small.

Also, Makus said, there was testimony that a member of Gomez's own gang threatened Gomez before he was arrested, saying he'd be killed if he ever snitched.

"The proof (Gomez committed the crimes) is not beyond a reasonable doubt," Makus said.

During the closing arguments, Gomez sat with one or both hands placed on the defense table, looking straight ahead much of the time.

At A Glance

Defendant: Benito Gomez, 19.

Murder victim: Julio Cesar Martinez, 20, who was shot twice in the head about 6 p.m. on May 17, 2011, in an alley in the 300 block of Myrtle Street. He died later that night at Providence St. Mary Medical Center.

Superior Court charges: One count of first-degree murder, accusing Gomez of the premeditated killing of Martinez, a rival gang member.

In addition, Gomez faces six counts of first-degree assault.

Officials say that when Martinez was killed, Gomez also shot at Martinez's fellow gang members Miguel Saucedo and Joseph Dejesus as they were fleeing from the alley into their apartment building at 331 Myrtle St.

Two other people, Jessica Glasby and David Cloyd, also were outside the residence and fled into it.

Roberto Cuevas and Patricia Nelson were inside an apartment at the house when a bullet entered through the door.

The charges against Gomez include firearm enhancements. If convicted as charged, he will serve the rest of his life in prison. The sentence would include 35 years on the enhancements, followed by an additional standard-range term of 66 1/2 years to more than 88 years.

The jury is composed of nine men and three women. Trial testimony began Wednesday.

Allegations: Gomez and three fellow gang members, Andres Solis, Alberto Ramirez and Michael Mercado met in the area of Sprague Avenue and Myrtle Street and decided to fight the rivals because they had moved into their area.

Gomez and his three fellow members walked south on Sprague, east on Chestnut Street and north into the alley between Chestnut and Myrtle. Gomez covered his face with a bandanna and the four approached the three rivals. As they were preparing to fight, Gomez drew a .40-caliber pistol and fired five bullets. Martinez was struck in the head by two of them. Gomez then fled west on Myrtle. His fellow gang members headed south down the alley and dispersed.

The murder weapon wasn't found.

Gomez, who was arrested May 21, 2011, has denied being involved in what police say has been the only gang-related homicide in the city.

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