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Trial starts for two in shooting

Defense lawyers question one of the victims of shooting. The second victim died of his wounds.

March 13, 2007|By Jason Wells

PASADENA — Defense lawyers for two members of an Echo Park gang charged in the drive-by shooting death of a 16-year-old Glendale boy in 2004 spent most of Monday trying to discredit the testimony of a second boy shot in the incident.

The prosecution's star witness, 17-year-old Juan Beltran, sustained two bullet wounds to his chest during the December 2004 Glendale shooting that killed his 16-year-old high school friend Carlos Pinon.

Echo Park residents Carlos Palma, 20, and Julian Martinez, 21, face charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder with an enhancement that it benefited a street gang.

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A third suspect, 19-year-old Richard Garcia, was sentenced to 18 years in prison in September after he pleaded no contest in Pasadena Superior Court to voluntary manslaughter, attempted voluntary manslaughter and for having affiliation with a violent gang.

Since Friday, when the trial began in Pasadena, prosecutors have attempted to paint the shooting — which occurred near the corner of Lake Street and Justin Avenue — as a heated gang rivalry that got out of control between several teenage boys in Glendale and Echo Park gangs.

But defense lawyers for the pair insist that neither Palma nor Martinez are in a gang and that the shooting was in self-defense after they felt threatened by Juan and Carlos Pinon, both of whom were confirmed Glendale gang members.

"These guys have a long, clean history," attorney Guy O'Brien, who represents Martinez, said outside of the courtroom.

Both Martinez and Palma sat stoically throughout the day wearing light button-down shirts and closely cropped hair.

Juan spent most of his time on the stand answering questions from defense lawyers, who compared statements he made to police shortly after the shooting to testimony he gave the court.

Defense lawyers tried to characterize Juan as a gang member eager to gain notoriety by trying to provoke the defendants into a confrontation.

But Juan largely maintained a quiet demeanor while on the stand, despite targeted questioning and pointed accusations from the defense that were quickly dismissed by the judge.

"I wasn't really into it that much," Juan said of life as a gang member, as he responded to accusations he was more active than he was letting on.

"I did some vandalism, but that's about it."

It was O'Brien's line of questioning, though, that focused on details of what Juan told police while recovering in the hospital from his wounds compared to his testimony for prosecutors.

O'Brien played back several audio clips of interviews Juan had with Glendale Police in January 2005 that seemed to contradict his assertion that he knew Martinez was in a gang, or what the shooter said before firing.

"You're in the hospital, in shock and concerned about your well-being and you choose a time like that to tell two lies to the police?" O'Brien said.

In keeping with his usual one-word answers, Juan leaned into the microphone to say a quiet "yes."

Deputy District Atty. Martin Bean was quick to point out that Juan was under a high amount of morphine while in the hospital and talking to police.

Glendale Police investigators are expected to testify today.


  • JASON WELLS covers public safety and the courts. He may be reached at (818) 637-3232 or by e-mail at jason.wellslatimes.com.

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