The 1988 Westwood gang shooting that took the life of an innocent bystander and galvanized the city in its fight against gang violence was portrayed in court Monday as an attempted pay-back murder that went awry.
In his closing argument, prosecutor Michael Duarte told the jury that defendant Durrell Dewitt Collins was trying to kill rival gang member Tyrone Swain, on Jan. 30, 1988, when he fired across a busy Westwood street, hitting Karen Toshima in the head as she strolled with her boyfriend.
The jury begins deliberations today after a monthlong trial that included a change in prosecutors, when Deputy Dist. Atty. Sandra Goen-Harris bowed out a week into the trial to give birth.
Collins, 23, is charged with the murder of Toshima, 27, and the attempted murder of Swain, who Duarte said had recently been released from jail, where he was being held for shooting at a member of Collins' gang.
The case hinges on eyewitness identification. During the trial, Duarte presented four witnesses who had picked Collins out of police photos or a lineup and testified they saw him fire the fatal shot, but defense attorney Paul Takakjian cited inconsistencies in their accounts.
Takakjian implied that the shooting could have been committed by another of the many gang members in Westwood that night, and argued that even if the jury believes Collins fired the fatal shot, they should convict him of manslaughter--not murder--because the killing occurred "in the heat of passion" as Swain advanced on Collins with a plastic milk crate.
"It's horrific, it's an outrage and anybody who has half the sense God gave a goat has to be stunned by what happened to Karen Toshima," he said. But "it would be very easy . . . and it would just as surely be very wrong" to convict Collins of murder, he said.
Collins did not testify during the trial, but Takakjian put on two of Collins' friends who testified that he was in a Westwood video arcade at the time of the shooting.
Duarte contended Monday that the witnesses lied to save Collins, and he painstakingly led the jury through large charts listing discrepancies in the accounts of the alibi witnesses, as well as similarities in the prosecution's eyewitness accounts.
"There's no great conspiracy in this case to convict an innocent man," he said.