FAIRFIELD — A murder trial was roiled Thursday by news that a gun recovered last year by Vacaville police may be tied to the crime and has been sitting unexamined for months in a Sacramento crime lab.
Rico M. Espitia, 22, is accused of fatally shooting 20-year-old Quinten D. Nears in the parking lot of an Alamo Way apartment complex in July 2011. He was arrested a month later, but the murder weapon was not found.
In December 2011, a Vacaville gang member was arrested with a revolver, which he told police he found in Alamo Creek near the shooting scene.
Police were interested enough in the gun to send it off to the crime lab along with bullets recovered from the murder scene. Investigators asked for the gun and ammunition to be compared with each other before February 2012 when Espitia, who police have deemed a gang member, was originally set to start trial.
As that trial date approached, the bullets were returned to police custody. The gun has gone unscrutinized since then.
Outside the presence of the jury, Espitia’s defense attorney, Sara Johnson, said she learned about the gun Thursday morning, one week into the trial. Johnson told Judge Donna Stashyn it was “appalling” that the police report detailing the gun was not shared with her long before the start of trial.
Stashyn shared Johnson’s concern about the gun and was dismissive of prosecutor Julie Underwood’s explanation that she had also just learned of the gun shortly before sharing the news with Johnson. Underwood said the gun was of “marginal relevance” and questioned the legitimacy of the claim by the gang member of the gun’s possible origin.
“I can’t think of a legitimate reason why this is happening,” Stashyn said after reminding Underwood that police have a responsibility to share everything they have relating to the case.
Johnson, briefly moved to tears over the possible impact of the news, did not seek a mistrial. Instead she asked Stashyn to sanction prosecutors by not letting them share with jurors a picture they obtained showing Espitia holding a revolver.
Stashyn, after saying a delay in the trial may be appropriate, ordered Johnson and Underwood back to court Friday morning, before jurors arrive, when she will decide how to respond to the news of the gun.
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.