A 23-year-old Fresno man is on trial, accused of punching a bearded man wearing a turban and a robe in December and later bragging that he beat up a terrorist.
Police say the victim, Amrik Singh Bal, actually was a peaceful, 68-year-old Sikh man headed to work.
Daniel Coronel Wilson Jr., is charged in Fresno County Superior Court with felony assault in connection with the Dec. 26, 2015 beating of Bal. He also faces a hate crime allegation because police contend Bal was targeted because he wore traditional Sikh clothing.
But in opening statements of the trial Monday, defense lawyer Marina Pincus said Wilson is not guilty, saying no one saw Wilson strike the victim.
If convicted, Wilson faces up to eight years in prison.
The issue is: Who did it?
Fresno defense attorney Marina Pincus
Police say Sikhs have been mistaken targets of hate crimes and harassment since the 9/11 terrorist attacks by people who erroneously identify them as Muslim and leap to make a connection that they represent terrorism.
In opening remarks Monday, prosecutor Timothy Donovan said Wilson and Alexis Mendoza, 17, beat up Bal before Mendoza’s black Dodge Challenger ran him over on a cold, foggy morning, leaving him unconscious on Brunswick Avenue near Shields Avenue, west of Highway 99.
Part of the incident – Bal trying to run away before being run over – was captured by several private security video cameras and stirred outrage and fear within Fresno’s Sikh community. But neither Wilson nor Mendoza are seen in the video beating the victim.
Wilson is on trial alone because Mendoza committed suicide in April. Wilson is free on $35,000 bail. His only other crime is possession of marijuana, court records show.
Donovan has built his case on the work done by Fresno police detective Haywood Irving, who interviewed two of Wilson’s friends. Those friends have allegedly implicated Wilson and Mendoza, saying the pair thought the victim belonged to ISIS. Data from the two defendants’ cellphones also put them in the area when the beating happened, Donovan told the jury.
In addition, Donovan has recordings of jail telephone conversations between Wilson and relatives. In one conversation, a relative says: “It’s stupid. You’re not even driving.”
In another conversation, a relative tells Wilson that he was “caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Daniel Wilson, 23, is on trial alone because co-defendant Alexis Mendoza, 17, committed suicide in April.
According to police, Bal was walking on Brunswick Avenue to work when he was attacked around 7 a.m. Bal told Irving that a skinny kid and a heavy-set subject got out of the car and beat him with their fists. After the beating, the two assailants got back in their car. Bal tried to run away, but the car ran him over, slamming his head into the pavement.
At a news conference after the attack, Police Chief Jerry Dyer said Bal remained unconscious on the roadway for several minutes until his friends, who were coming to the neighborhood to give him a ride to work, found him. He was rushed to a hospital with serious injuries. He has since recovered.
Once police offered a reward, tipsters led Irving to Mendoza and Wilson, who were arrested three months after the attack.
On Monday, Pincus told the jury that one of the friends who implicated Wilson was motivated by the $12,000 reward because he needed money.
The lawyer also said two children, ages 12 and 17, have told police that the victim was fighting with a man and a woman with a ponytail – not two young men. In addition, the victim was shown a police photo lineup, but he could not pick out either Wilson or Mendoza, Pincus said.
“The issue is: ‘Who did it?’ ” Pincus told the jury.