Ventura County prosecutors urged a jury Tuesday to convict Camarillo resident Jose Vazquez of first-degree murder, saying a cell phone found at the crime scene links him to an attempted kidnapping that turned deadly.
"When the phone was dropped at the scene, it held the keys to solving this mystery," Deputy Dist. Atty. Bob Calvert said.
But defense attorneys said there is no evidence their client was involved in a kidnapping scheme that led to the fatal shooting of downtown Ventura restaurateur Felipe Arambula.
"There is insufficient evidence my client was a major participant in the unfortunate circumstances that happened at the Arambula house," defense attorney Steven Andrade said.
Vazquez, 38, is charged with murder, attempted kidnapping, burglary and other crimes in connection with Arambula's slaying last summer.
The weeklong trial concluded Tuesday with both sides giving closing arguments. The jury began deliberating in late afternoon.
Arambula, who lived in Ventura's upscale Clearpoint neighborhood, was killed June 13, 1998, during a fight with two men who had broken into his Monte Vista Avenue home. His wife and children were held captive for an hour before Arambula arrived home from work.
Prosecutors allege that the intruders, William David Hampton Jr. and Manuel Vasquez, were sent by Jose Vazquez to kidnap Arambula because the restaurateur had owed $50,000 to Vazquez's wife.
In April, Hampton, 20, was sentenced to life in prison for using a gun to commit murder after he waived a jury trial and agreed to let a judge sentence him based on evidence presented during a preliminary hearing.
Vasquez, 21, is believed to have fled the country.
Jose Vazquez, the only defendant to face a jury, has denied any involvement in the crime and told authorities in two interviews that he had no idea anyone had planned a break-in at Arambula's house.
Calvert gave about 90 minutes of closing arguments that focused on evidence such as cell phone records.
The prosecutor said the $50,000 Arambula owed Vazquez's wife was the motive for orchestrating the break-in and kidnapping. Because the plan to get the money back allegedly led to the killing, prosecutors contend that Vazquez is responsible.
"The defendant had the motive, the means, and he did it," Calvert said.
Three calls were placed to Vazquez on a cell phone about the time of the killing. One call was longer than six minutes, a time period Calvert demonstrated with an egg timer during his closing arguments.
"No one would hold onto the phone that long if the defendant was only saying go and talk," he said. "Don't you think if he heard they [Arambula's family] were in the house he'd say, 'Get out of there'?"
Calvert stressed that while Vazquez was not at the crime scene, he can still be held accountable for the fatal outcome. "You do not get off because you say, 'Gee, I didn't want that to happen.' "
Calvert also played excerpts from taped interviews the police had with Vazquez and then cited what he said were inconsistencies in the defendant's story.
"He acted in every way like a guilty man," he said. "You only lie if you have a reason to lie; if truth won't hurt you, you tell the truth. He knew he was responsible for Felipe's death, so he denied, denied, denied."
Andrade conceded that his client might be guilty of lesser charges not filed in the case, specifically extortion and being an accessory to buying Hampton a plane ticket to Texas after the killing.
"There's no question my client is guilty of serious crimes," but murder was not one of them, he said.
Using several charts, Andrade addressed the jury for nearly two hours in an effort to show many of the prosecutors' arguments are based on untrue statements by Manuel Vasquez.
He said Vasquez lied about 70 times to friends and authorities about the alleged conspiracy.
Andrade said his client did not intend for Arambula to be kidnapped, and that he only hired Vasquez and Hampton to scare Arambula enough to reimburse his wife. "All he wanted was for Felipe to be intimidated to pay the money back."