Libby Lake mayhem

Justice sought for multiple gunshot victims

Prosecutor Christine Bannon and detective Tyrone Dunn reviewed evidence photos on July 7.
  • Prosecutor Christine Bannon and detective Tyrone Dunn reviewed evidence photos on July 7.

A subpoenaed witness who refused to testify on July 7 was handcuffed and taken into custody at the start of a hearing in which four young men are accused of a double murder in connection with a shooting in an Oceanside park more than a year ago.

Melanie Virgen, 13, and Edgar Sanchez, 15, died of multiple gunshot wounds at about 9 p.m. on the night of March 13, 2013, according to the county medical examiner’s office. Two other juveniles were allegedly shot and wounded that same night in Libby Lake Park; one of the survivors testified on July 7.

Santo Daniel Diaz (20), Martin Melendrez (23), Michael Zurita (20), and Kevin Brizuela (18), all pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder through their court-appointed attorneys.

Oceanside police detective Tyrone Dunn told a judge that he spoke to a witness who was smoking a cigarette on the balcony of an apartment overlooking the park when he heard an estimated 10 to 14 gunshots.

The witness told police he saw four Hispanic men coming down a hill, single file, and two of them were carrying long guns — one rifle had a scope. All four men got into a Toyota Tacoma extended-cab truck and drove away slowly, according to testimony.

Then the witness heard a voice calling out, “Help me! Help me!”

Prosecutor Christine Bannon produced photo evidence of a truck that matched the witness’ description; the truck, owned by Melendrez and his girlfriend, was impounded the day after the shooting.

A survivor of the shooting testified that he yelled for help that night after he regained consciousness. The man, who was 17 years old at the time, said he was shot in the head, abdomen, chest, and leg. He said he had to relearn how to drink, speak, and walk again after he was released from the hospital.

The remarkably composed witness said he was standing near a couch that night with approximately six friends — the spot is marked with weathered memorials left for victims of previous shootings and overlooks part of the lake. The survivor said the group of teens was smoking marijuana when they heard some people jogging toward them in the darkness. “During the shooting, I heard them say, ‘Fuck Mesa!’” the witness told the judge.

Evidence suggests that a street gang named Mesa claims or tries to control Libby Lake Park and a rival gang named Vista Home Boys invaded to punish a person they believed might be in the group that night.

The presiding judge, Sim von Kalinowski, will not allow photography of the defendants nor any civilian witnesses during this preliminary hearing.

The reluctant witness who was taken into custody will be brought back into San Diego’s North County Superior Courthouse again today, July 8.

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Prosecutor Christine Bannon has charged all four defendants with two counts murder, two counts attempted murder, gang allegations, and use of gun allegations. Plus, Bannon stated that, "The defendants also face the special circumstance of multiple murder." When asked if that means she is considering the death penalty in this case, the deputy district attorney replied, "That is for Ms. Dumanis to decide."

Judge Sim von Kalinowski is expected to make a ruling late today, Thursday, July 17, on what charges -- if any -- the defendants might face in this double-murder case. Look for an update soon.

Near the end of the hearing, defense attorney Rick Layon asserted that prosecutors’ witnesses "were not fully invested in truth-telling." In fact, each defense attorney took turns deriding the credibility of witnesses called by prosecutor Christine Bannon. However, the judge found probable cause to hold all four defendants to answer every charge and allegation. The accused are due back in San Diego's North County Superior Courthouse on August 26, to set a date for trial.

Prosecutor Bannon asserted that four guns were brought by the killers that night, but only three guns were fired. “One person didn’t pull the trigger, or maybe one gun jams,” she argued to the judge. Lead detective Mark La Vake gave testimony regarding cell phone use and text messages, claiming this tracked the movements of all four defendants around the time of the shooting.

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