A mistrial has been declared in the case of two men accused of killing another man who a prosecutor said was brutally beaten after he tried to rob a marijuana grow house in unincorporated Hayward more than four years ago.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jon Rolefson granted a defense motion for a mistrial for Mohammed Kahn, 51, and 66-year-old Manuel Trujillo of Hayward, on Thursday after prosecutor Luis Marin disclosed that he had belatedly discovered more than four years of tape-recorded phone calls of Kahn, Trujillo and witnesses in the case, Kahn’s lawyer William Linehan said today.
The phone calls are valuable evidence for both the prosecution and the defense and it was “an easy decision” for Rolefson to grant the motion for a mistrial even though the trial had been underway for four days, Linehan said.
“No one is blaming the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, it’s just an unfortunate problem,” Linehan said.
Belatedly disclosed phone calls are “a common problem” for defense lawyers and are an issue that must be addressed by the district attorney’s office and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, which records inmates’ phone calls, Linehan said.
Marin declined to comment in depth on the case today except to confirm that a mistrial has been granted and to say that a new trial for Kahn and Trujillo is scheduled to begin on Dec. 15.
In his opening statement a week ago, Marin said the victims in the case, Francisco Lopez of East Palo Alto, who was 27 at the time, and his younger brother, Fernando Lopez, now 25, “made a horrible mistake” by trying to rob the grow house at 19123 Standish Ave. at about 2 a.m. on Feb. 26, 2010, and Francisco Lopez “paid for it with his life.”
Marin said the house was guarded by two pit bulls and two men, one of whom was armed and held them at gunpoint while he called Kahn, who he alleged was the operator of the grow house.
Marin said Kahn, Trujillo and several associates then came to the house and started beating up the Lopez brothers in what he described as “a vicious attack.”
Fernando Lopez managed to escape but Francisco Lopez “was not so lucky” and was beaten at the house on Standish Avenue as well as at another house at 328 Panjon St. in Hayward, Marin said.
Francisco Lopez’s decomposed body wasn’t found until six months later, on Aug. 26, 2010, when it was discovered down an embankment off of Niles Canyon Road in Fremont, according to Marin.
A total of six defendants were originally charged in the case but Kahn and Trujillo are the only ones facing trial. Marin said three of the defendants have entered into plea bargains and would testify against Khan and Trujillo.
Linehan told jurors in his opening statement not to believe those three men because “they have huge motives to say they weren’t responsible” for Francisco Lopez’s death because they faced life in prison until they entered into their plea agreements.
Linehan said, “There’s no doubt that Francisco was brutally beaten” but he claimed that “none of the lawyers in this case knows exactly what happened.”
Linehan said it’s also not clear that Francisco Lopez died from the injuries he suffered when he was beaten, saying one of the suspects in the case told authorities that Lopez was still alive when he was dumped in Fremont.
He said Lopez could have died “from some other cause after he was left there.”
Trujillo’s lawyer, Brian Hong, said his client worked as a handyman who worked on various properties owned or rented by Kahn but said Trujillo wasn’t involved in the marijuana grow operation at Standish Avenue and had never been there until the night of the beating.
Hong also told jurors not to trust the testimony of the three men who entered into plea bargains, alleging that the prosecution “basically made a deal with the devil” in making the agreements.
In addition to being charged with murder for Francisco Lopez’s death, Kahn and Trujillo are charged with attempted murder for the beating of Fernando Lopez and with illegally cultivating marijuana.
Fernando Lopez testified last week that he was asleep at home in the early morning hours of Feb. 26, 2010, when his older brother called him and asked him to come with him.
Lopez, who is a maintenance worker at Stanford Hospital, said he didn’t know where they would be going but said it wasn’t unusual for his brother to ask him to come along with him and he usually complied because he looked up to his brother.
Lopez said his brother “wasn’t exactly a law-abiding citizen” and “came and went as he wished.”
Lopez said Khan and Trujillo were among a group of men who beat up his brother and himself, asked who had sent them and “told us we were done for.”
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