In an act of revenge, a Fresno gang member killed a rival and wounded the rival’s son on New Year’s Day 2014, prosecutor said Tuesday in opening statements of Jessie Aguilar’s murder trial in Fresno County Superior Court.
Prosecutor Elana Landau told the jury that Aguilar, 43, shot and killed Frank Zapata, 59, and wounded Frank Zapata Jr., 36, outside a drug dealer’s home on Mono Avenue near First Street and Ventura Avenue in southeast Fresno. Both victims were unarmed.
Aguilar was arrested nearly two months later after a standoff with a police SWAT team in northeast Fresno. Officers found him hiding in a motel room at the Summerfield Inn, near Sierra and Blackstone Avenues. After an hour of talking with the suspect, officers threw a “flash bang” device near the room, resulting in his surrender, police said.
The shooting happened New Year’s Day 2014 on Mono Avenue near First Street and Ventura Avenue in southeast Fresno.
The trial in Judge Houry Sanderson’s courtroom will take three to four weeks. Jurors will learn about the Bulldogs street gang, which has several subsets in Fresno, “but not all of them are created equal,” Landau said, noting that there are warring factions among the gangs.
Aguilar, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and attempted murder, is represented by Fresno defense attorney Eric Green, who declined to give an opening statement. If convicted, Aguilar faces life in prison.
Landau told the jury that several people have been subpoenaed to testify, but it’s unclear if they will because of “fear and intimidation.” Zapata Jr. is on the witness list, but Landau said, his whereabouts are unknown.
The best evidence, Landau said, will come from the Mono Avenue home’s surveillance video cameras. She told the jury that the videos “don’t lie and don’t change their stories.” The videos don’t capture the shooting, but moments after the gunfire, a video shows Aguilar holding a gun and running toward a van that had dropped off the two victims, the prosecutor said.
Aguilar belongs to the Calwa Varrio Locos street gang; the Zapatas were associated with the Bond Street Bulldogs gang.
According to Landau, the shooting stemmed from Aguilar’s belief that Zapata Jr. had “set up” the killing of Angel Vasquez, 26, who was fatally shot Aug. 19, 2013, outside of an apartment complex on West Swift Avenue near Ashlan and West avenues in central Fresno.
Aguilar and Vasquez belonged to the Calwa Varrio Locos, a subset of the Bulldogs street gang. The Zapatas were associated with the Bond Street Bulldogs gang, Landau said. After Vasquez was killed, Calwa Varrio Locos found out that Zapata Jr. had provided information to the Fresno Police Department about the killing, she said.
On Vasquez’s birthday on Dec. 28, 2013, members of the Calwa Varrio Locos visited his grave. Four days later, the Zapatas were shot, Landau said.
Landau said the Zapatas went to the Mono Avenue home to purchase drugs around 11:40 a.m. Jan. 1, 2014 But seconds after they stepped out of the van, they were shot. The driver of the van saw the shooting and took off once Aguilar started coming toward the van with a gun in his hand, Landau said.
Landau said a wounded Zapata Jr. was able to stagger from the home to a nearby convenience store, where he collapsed.