Attorneys in the trial of three men accused of gunning down a group of Pasadena children on Halloween night, 1993, turned their case over to the jury Wednesday, wrapping up almost two months of testimony about a crime so horrible it shocked even the most cynical residents of Southern California and the nation.
The defendants are accused of wounding three boys and killing three others--Edgar Evans, 13, and Stephen Coats and Reggie Crawford, both 14--as the group trick-or-treated their way home from a Pasadena birthday party.
The jurors, many of whom took copious notes during the testimony of nearly 70 witnesses, will weigh the fates of Lorenzo Alex Newborn, 25, Karl Holmes, 20, and Herbert Charles McClain Jr., 26, each of whom has pleaded not guilty in the death-penalty case before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge J.D. Smith.
Two other defendants, Aurelius Bailey and Solomon Bowen, will be tried separately later.
In their closing arguments, prosecutors took jurors through a painstaking recitation of the elements and people in their case. Based on the testimony of jailhouse informants, fellow gang members and an eyewitness who saw two defendants just before and after the shooting, prosecutors argued that the three defendants committed the crime as part of a tragic case of mistaken identity.
Prosecutors allege that the three men were part of a plot to retaliate for the shooting death of a friend that same night. Thinking the children were rival gang members, prosecutors said, Newborn and Holmes hid in the bushes and shot them; McClain waited in or near a caravan of four getaway cars.
But defense attorneys painted a picture of unreliable witnesses who could only offer scant information. No fingerprints, direct witnesses to the shootings or murder weapons were recovered.
Instead, they said, prosecutors enticed various acknowledged felons into fingering their clients with promises of reduced sentences and reward money. McClain's attorney, H. Elizabeth Harris, called the prosecution's star witnesses "the unholy three."
"Whenever we pay for the truth, we get something other than the truth," Harris told the jury Tuesday. "These people have been purchased and when you purchase the truth, you purchase suspicion."
The one eyewitness who placed McClain and Holmes near the scene, their attorneys argued, could not have seen the perpetrators from where he stood and did not identify the defendants until after their pictures appeared in news accounts about the crime.
In his final argument, Deputy Dist. Atty. Antony Myers took jurors through the prosecutors' version of what led up to the so-called Halloween massacre, weaving together the complicated bits of circumstantial and direct evidence that prosecutors laid out as they began closing arguments Monday.
McClain stared straight ahead, Newborn maintained his usual focus on materials on the table in front of him, and Holmes, sitting at the end of the table, looked directly at the jury as Myers began his story.
The tragedy began, Myers said, when McClain shot Robert Lee Price three times Oct. 28, 1993, because Price had infringed on his turf. McClain faces an additional count of attempted murder in connection with that incident, which took place at Pasadena's Community Arms housing complex.
So on Halloween night, when a friend of McClain's was shot and killed, he and his friends assumed it was a crime perpetrated by Price's friends, prosecutors said.
Reminding jurors of testimony about the growing crowd--mostly young men wearing hoods--outside the Huntington Memorial Hospital emergency room where Fernando Hodges lay dying, Myers argued that a plan was hatched to take revenge.
McClain, who took the stand in his own defense, testified earlier that he indeed headed out that night to kill a rival, but did not take part in shooting the children.
After they left the hospital, Myers said, the group first went looking for a rival at an acquaintance's Pasadena home. That acquaintance, he reminded jurors, testified that Newborn was among the group who showed up at his door.
And before they left, the acquaintance testified, the group fired numerous shots, leaving the 9-millimeter handgun casings and live .38-caliber rounds that police would later collect. Another witness said Newborn told him he had been among the shooters at that house.
Prosecutors are relying on the alleged link between that shooting and the shooting of the children. According to police experts, the bullets outside that Pasadena home--where witnesses said Newborn appeared that night--match the ones that killed the children.
Newborn's attorney, Carl Jones, told jurors that no one saw his client at the scene of the crime, no reliable witness saw his client at the hospital and no one other than a convicted felon claimed to have seen Newborn with a gun that night.
"What you have in this case are theories," Jones said, fighting a hoarse voice. "I have never seen so many people take so long to prove so little."
Acknowledging the potential problems with their witnesses--some witnesses changed their statements between their grand jury appearance and the trial while others received deals from the district attorney's office in exchange for their cooperation--Myers told jurors that these were the type of people with whom the defendants would associate.
After briefly being interrupted by McClain--who swore and called Myers a liar--Myers put up photographs, now familiar to the jury, of the dead children's bodies.
"These guys aren't going to be home for Christmas," Myers said, pointing to the photos. "They sent them to eternity--Herb did, Lorenzo did and Karl did."