Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss Case in 2005 Gang-Related Drive-By Killing

Patch file photo by Guy McCarthy
Patch file photo by Guy McCarthy
A judge in Indio denied a motion Friday to dismiss the case against a Coachella man accused in a gang-related drive-by attack that killed a 19-year- old woman in 2005.

Daniel Cardona Torres, 27, is charged with murder and two counts of attempted murder in the Aug. 12, 2005, shooting death of Vanessa Torres, who died in the driveway of her boyfriend's home in Indio. The defendant and victim are not related.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge James S. Hawkins denied Daniel Torres' attorney's request to dismiss the case and set a court hearing for Jan. 14.

Torres has been tried twice in the case, with the jury deadlocking both times - 6-6 in December 2011 and 8-4 in favor of acquittal on Oct. 15.

He was convicted in the first trial of two counts of assault with a firearm and acquitted of shooting at an inhabited dwelling, along with sentence enhancing allegations that he intentionally used a firearm and did so for the benefit of a street gang.

At a hearing Oct. 25 at Indio's Larson Justice Center, Torres' attorney, Andrea Rathburn, argued that there hasn't been new evidence in the case, nor is it likely there will be any.

"Even if you combine the two juries, the people still have not convinced 12 people to vote guilty," she said.

Deputy District Attorney Manny Bustamante said he'd suggest to the District Attorney's Office to try Torres for second-degree murder rather than first, dismiss the special circumstance allegations and make it a case of aiding and abetting, taking into account some jurors' concerns that the case was "overcharged" and that Torres didn't have the intent to kill.

Bustamante said during the trial that Vanessa Torres was at a gathering at the Ruby Street home of her boyfriend, Jacob Rodriguez, when a Ford Taurus driven by Jesse Sambrano pulled up and Daniel Torres and the other passenger, Anthony Lares, "unleashed a hail of gunfire."

Some people were hiding behind a car parked in the driveway, and Rodriguez and another man, Jesus Morin, were struck, according to Bustamante.

Vanessa Torres "died on that driveway that night as a result of the actions of
these men," Bustamante said.

According to court documents, the three men, all affiliated with the VCR 52 gang in Coachella, drove into rival gang territory that night. In a taped interview between Daniel Torres and an investigator that Bustamante played in court, Torres said some people at Rodriguez's house "kept looking at us ... like, 'What's up?'"

"In short, they drove by and saw something they didn't like," Bustamante said.

They drove by a second time, and started shooting on the third pass, he said, adding that witnesses saw Torres in the front seat of the car with a gun.

Rathburn told jurors in her opening statement that the case "is really about intent."

"You're going to hear about the loss of life to Vanessa Torres, and you're also going to hear that Daniel Torres never wanted that to happen, he tried to prevent that from happening," she said.

She said her client "tried to talk Mr. Lares out of firing at anyone, he tried to talk Mr. Sambrano out of returning to that house."

In the taped interview, she said Torres repeated that "'I know I did not kill that girl, I know I didn't, I know I shot that car . . . ' and the ballistics agree with what Mr. Torres said."

The shot that struck Morin ricocheted off the car in the driveway that Torres aimed at, Rathburn said.

She said Torres had taken steps to leave the gang, but it proved difficult and he carried his handgun for protection.

Torres testified last week that he tried to discourage Sambrano and Lares from doing anything and that he fired at the car because it was empty. He said he didn't intend to attack anyone and was afraid of retribution from the gang if he didn't fire after Lares did.

Lares and Sambrano were convicted in June 2011 of first-degree murder and other charges stemming from the shooting and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Reported by City News Service


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