A friend of a Gilroy man accused of killing 27-year-old Philip Lacy during a robbery in downtown Palo Alto in July 2008 testified in court today about their drug and alcohol use on the night of the alleged murder.Donald Lee, a friend of 23-year-old Otto Emil Koloto, was arrested and initially charged with murder. The charge was later reduced to felony accessory, to which Lee pleaded no contest. He was sentenced to one year in prison in June 2009.Lee was ordered to testify for the prosecution on the second day of testimony in the trial for Koloto, who has been charged with murder with an enhancement for use of a firearm during the commission of a felony.Lee gave an account of the events leading up to the shooting of Lacy near City Hall early morning on July 13, 2008. Under questioning from prosecutor Matt Braker today, Lee said that Koloto had mentioned to him that he “popped someone.”Lee said their day began around noon on July 12 at Koloto’s house in Gilroy where Koloto showed him a 9mm semi-automatic handgun. The friends then took off in Lee’s white Toyota Yaris, stopping in San Jose to pick up ecstasy pills, bottles of Hennessy and a pack of Budweiser, before heading to a party at a home on Sparrow Court in East Palo Alto later that evening, Lee testified.In the 45 minutes they spent at the house, Lee said he and Koloto mixed ecstasy and alcohol, but that he spent most of his time playing cards in the garage without Koloto. At one point, he said he heard three or four gunshots fired outside of the garage, but didn’t know who was responsible.By 1 a.m., they arrived in downtown Palo Alto, where they tried to get into the Blue Chalk Cafe, but were turned away because it was closing. Lee said he later told police Koloto appeared “wasted.” They lingered in the area for about 20 minutes and then headed back to the Civic Center parking garage to leave, Lee said. He said as he was exiting the garage, Koloto directed him to pull over on Forest Avenue, so he stopped the car and waited for Koloto, who he assumed was relieving himself. Prosecutors allege that is when Koloto fatally shot Lacy nearby on Bryant Street.When Koloto returned five or 10 minutes later, Lee said there was no change in his demeanor. Lee drove to a warehouse in East Palo Alto, where they joined another large gathering and where Lee said he overheard someone comment to a group of people about a murder in Palo Alto.Lee said when Koloto found out there had been a murder, his facial expression changed. “His face dropped,” Lee said. “He looked shocked.”Lee testified that while they were at the warehouse, Koloto had told him he “popped someone.” They left the warehouse around 4 a.m. and went to rest at Koloto’s cousin’s house on Garden Street in East Palo Alto. Upon waking at 7 a.m., Lee said he saw Koloto getting his hair cut in the backyard. Koloto left the house at about 10 a.m. Lee said he then received a phone call from a friend who mentioned the murder in Palo Alto and that contributed to his decision to leave the city. He left the Yaris behind.”I figured if something happened in that car, I didn’t want to have anything to do with it,” Lee said. “I assumed police were looking for me.”Lee borrowed money from his family in San Jose and boarded a Greyhound to Kansas. He was arrested in Albuquerque, N.M., before reaching his destination.
Following Lee’s testimony, Etika Sakalia,an acquaintance of Koloto, took the stand, but appeared uncomfortable, repeatedly avoiding prosecutor Matt Braker’s questions in reference to his interview with a Palo Alto police sergeant.Sakalia denied telling the sergeant that he had witnessed Koloto shooting at the party. Testimonies were also heard from Palo Alto police Lt. Sandra Brown, who discussed her role in the investigation, and Moises Reyes, a criminal investigator who shared his expertise on firearms.The final testimony was given by criminalist Brian Karp, who discussed his evaluation of the bullet casings, one of the key pieces of evidence recovered.In his opening statement Monday, Braker claimed a bullet casing found near Lacy’s body matched a casing police found at the Sparrow Court home in East Palo Alto.Braker claimed the casings and other circumstantial evidence shows Koloto shot Lacy during a robbery. Prosecutors allege Koloto robbed Lacy, who was in a vehicle, of his gold chain necklace with a diamond-encrusted cross. When Lacy lunged at Koloto after handing him the necklace, Koloto allegedly fatally shot Lacy, according to prosecutors.However, defense attorney Andy Gutierrez urged the jury to keep an open mind. The defense is expected to start questioning their witnesses later this week.Testimony will resume at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
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