By Denise Yoakum, Deputy District Attorney
Defendant: Ernesto Aguirre
On Dec. 27, 2011, I began pre-trial motions in the trial of People v. Ernesto Aguirre in Department 19 of the San Bernardino Superior Court. Aguirre, a West Side Verdugo gang member was charged with murdering Daniel Martin Martinez on July 3, 2010, with a firearm. Daniel was in the parking lot of a local pharmacy in San Bernardino around 11:30 a.m. when witnesses saw him exit a Black Jeep Cherokee and walk towards his green Saturn.
Once he opened the door to his car and sat down, the defendant arrived in a stolen black Honda Civic. The defendant exited from the passenger side of the car and was approximately 1-2 feet away from Daniel when he began shooting him.
Daniel died after being shot five times.
The defendant got back into the passenger side of the black Honda Civic, and as it drove away, a person exited the black Jeep Cherokee and started shooting at the Black Honda Civic.
Police did not have evidence to arrest the driver of the black Honda Civic or the person in the black Jeep Cherokee. In fact, we did not have enough evidence to show this was even a gang-related murder. We had nothing to offer the jury as to motive for this murder.
Several witnesses saw the actual shooting, but none could identify the defendant. Many of the witnesses only saw the side of the defendant’s face or were too far away to make out any facial features. They each looked at a photo line- up and couldn’t say if the shooter’s photo was in the line- up.
PICTURED ABOVE: Crime Scene
One young girl, who, fearing for her life, asked to remain anonymous, saw the defendant in the passenger side of the black Honda Civic minutes before the shooting. Jane Doe # 1 (as she would be known throughout the trial) only saw his face from the nose down. After hearing gun shots, she again saw the black Honda Civic with the same passenger; this time she saw the front of his face and noticed two bullet holes in the passenger side door of the car.
Prior to her taking the stand, she and her family had been threatened and advised to leave the state by anonymous callers. At first, she did not want to testify or even come to court, but she courageously took the witness stand and identified the defendant. Without the honesty and courage shown by Jane Doe, Aguirre would have gotten away with murder.
Another witness, who saw the black Honda Civic parked on a residential street, testified that he saw two males exit the car and run. He said on the witness stand that he was in fear for his family’s life because the defense had his address and phone number.
The defense attorney on cross examination put up on the overhead a consent form that this witness signed. It contained the witnesses’ current address and phone number. The court room was full of the defendant’s family sitting in the audience. This witness testified he was upset that the defense had shown everyone in the court room his address and phone number.
Another witness, the defendant’s cousin, had told police that the defendant showed up at her house without a car around noon. She said he was sweating and asked her for a ride out of the area. Police recovered the black Honda Civic a couple of blocks away from her house.
The cousin testified on direct she didn’t remember or recall anything she had told the police. When the defense cross examined her, she had a great memory. As she cried during her testimony, I asked her if she was scared. She said no, but only after being coached by her mother who was seated in the back of courtroom.
Even though the cousin did not testify truthfully at trial, her first statements to the police were recorded. The cousin at the end of the interview said, “I know I'm doing the right thing.”
One week before trial, a West Side Verdugo gang member had contacted Det. Martinez from the San Bernardino Police Department and told him that he had information regarding Aguirre. It just so happened that the witness had also been convicted as a third striker—by me. The witness told Det. Martinez his mother had died, and no one from his gang attended the funeral. He was upset and decided he wanted to cut all ties from the gang.
According to the witness, Aguirre asked him to speak with “Lazy” (president of West Side Verdugo) about silencing his cousin, who was a key witness.
“Without my cousin, the DA has no case, so you tell Lazy what’s up with that,” said Aguirre. “You know, can he take care of that?”
As a result of his testimony, this witness also said that he now has a “green light” on him, which means that any Southern California gang member who comes into contact with him has permission to kill him because of his cooperation with law enforcement.
The jury deliberated for four days without any questions. Finally at the end of the fourth day, on Feb. 9, I received a call that the jury had a verdict.
They convicted the defendant of first degree murder and the use of a firearm.
Unfortunately, this case exemplifies why people do not want to help the police or come to court and testify. They are afraid of retaliation against themselves and their families. During this trial, almost every witness asked to be called Jane or John Doe and needed to be escorted to court.
But the truth is, without witnesses coming forward we could not hold criminals accountable for their crimes.