On a hot summer night in August 2012, two robbers entered a southeast Fresno convenience store and shot and killed the shopkeeper and seriously injured a store employee by beating him in the head with a metal pipe.
A store video surveillance camera captured the killing and bloody crime scene. The only problem for police – the robbers concealed their faces.
Nearly four years later, Christopher Roberts, 25, and Dwayne Dodson, 39, are on trial in Fresno County Superior Court, accused of murdering Kashmir Singh Manes, 45, during an attempted robbery at the Super 1 convenience store at Tulare and Seventh streets on Aug. 23, 2012. They also are accused of assaulting Kulvinder Singh with a pipe.
If convicted of the charges, the two defendants face life in prison.
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This is not a whodunit.
Fresno prosecutor Sam Dalesandro
The trial began Friday with prosecutor Sam Dalesandro presenting circumstantial evidence against the two defendants and defense lawyers charging the Fresno Police Department with racial profiling and intimidating witnesses.
Specifically, defense attorney Margarita Martinez-Baly, who is defending Roberts, told the jury that police pulled over her client about a half-hour after the killing simply because he is black.
And after police pulled over Roberts, a police detective badgered a juvenile witness into identifying Roberts’ vehicle as the one seen near the Super 1 store at the time the killing, said defense attorney Ralph Torres, who is defending Dodson.
The juvenile’s identification can’t be true, Torres told the jury, because he initially told police it was a dark or black sedan that looked like an “old cop car.” Fresno dispatch then reported over the police radio to be on the lookout for an older model Ford Crown Victoria.
When Roberts was pulled over, he was driving a light blue 1992 Mercury Grand Marquis, Martinez-Baly said.
Dalesandro, however, said it was a lawful stop of Roberts, and Fresno County Superior Court Judge Denise Whitehead agreed. Dalesandro also said two witnesses, including the juvenile, identified Roberts’ car as the getaway car.
“This is not a whodunit,” Dalesandro told the jury in opening statement of the trial in which he said the evidence will prove Dodson was the gunman who shot Manes. He also said the evidence will prove Roberts beat Singh with a pipe.
“The two defendants conspired to commit a robbery and conceal their identities,” Dalesandro said. “But they made mistakes and left physical evidence.”
Police pulled him over because he is black.
Defense attorney Margarita Martinez-Baly
The video, which was shown to jurors, shows two robbers with gloves entering the store shortly before 11 p.m. One of them wore a baseball cap, a dark stocking cap and goggles, and waved a handgun near the counter while the second man, with a white T-shirt over his head, moved in and out of the video frames. Dalesandro pointed out that Manes was shot the moment the video shows the gunman holding the handgun with two hands.
After Manes was shot once, the video shows the robbers bumping into each other as they leave the store without taking any loot. The video then shows Manes lying mortally wounded on the floor behind the cash register while a bloody Singh calls 911.
Dalesandro told the jury that two hours earlier, Roberts had entered the Super 1 store in order to “case” it. A store video shows Roberts was not wearing a mask, but he was wearing black and white tennis shoes. Dalesandro said the black and white tennis shoes are key evidence, because the video shows the robber who beat Singh with a pipe wearing black and white tennis shoes.
In addition, the video shows the man who beat Singh wearing sagging pants, so his underwear could be seen. When Roberts was pulled over by police 30 minutes after the shooting, his underwear matched those of the man who beat Singh, Dalesandro said.
But Martinez-Baly said many people wear black and white tennis shoes. “Just look around the courthouse,” she told the jury. She also said Roberts went into the store earlier that night, not to “case” it, but to pay for gasoline. Regarding Roberts’ underwear, which she showed to the jury, the color is different from the underwear shown in the video, Martinez-Baly said.
About an hour before the deadly shooting, the defendants were videotaped at the counter of another store two miles away.
Dalesandro said there is other evidence that links the pair to the killing.
About an hour before the deadly shooting, Roberts and Dodson were videotaped at the counter of another store two miles away. The video clearly shows their faces and also shows Dodson wearing a dark stocking cap, similar to the one worn by the gunman who shot Manes, Dalesandro told the jury. Dodson also was wearing a black shirt over white shirt, similar to the clothing the gunman wore, he said.
After the killing, Dalesandro said, Roberts dropped off Dodson and ditched his clothing because he wasn’t wearing the black and white tennis shoes when officers pulled him over. But police found two gloves in Roberts’ car. Dalesandro said evidence will show that “the gloves were used in the murder.”
Dodson was arrested about a week after the murder when his fingerprint was discovered on the outside of Roberts’ car, the prosecutor said. In addition, records from the defendants’ cellphones put them in the area when the shooting happened, he said.
DNA from a ball cap left at the scene doesn’t match either defendant, their lawyers say.
Torres said Dodson and Roberts are friends, so the fingerprint on Roberts’ car means little. Torres pointed out that no one identified Roberts or Dodson as the assailants; the only description given by witnesses was two black men. In addition, the gloves recovered by police did not have gunshot residue or the victim’s DNA, Torres said.
Highway 41 is near the crime scene and an easy getaway for any robber, Torres told the jury. Yet, Roberts was pulled over near the Fresno Police Department in downtown Fresno, Torres said.
Singh also was beaten so badly that he needed 22 stitches on his head, said Martinez-Baly. Yet, none of the victims’ blood was found on Dodson or Roberts or in Roberts’ car, she said.
The best piece of evidence, the defense lawyers say, is the ball cap left by the gunman at the crime scene. It was around 100 degrees that night, so the gunman had to be sweating inside his ball cap, they said. Yet, when crime-scene specialists analyzed the cap, the DNA from the ball cap did not match Roberts or Dodson, they said.
The trial is expected to take at least six weeks. Because Martinez-Baly violated a pretrial ruling that prohibited her from accusing police of racial profiling, Judge Whitehead said the prosecution can tell the jury that Roberts had a prior felony conviction, which the judge said was the legal basis for police to detain him and search his car. Despite the ruling, Martinez-Baly stuck by her claim: “Police pulled him over because he is black.”