A Sonoma County judge Tuesday closed her courtroom to the public during testimony from a Santa Rosa gang member charged with murdering a Vallejo musician in an apparent case of mistaken identity.
Judge Dana Simonds removed all but lawyers and the jury to allow Christopher “Spider” Mancinas, 31, to testify about a “discreet issue” related to his role as an FBI informant.
Simonds reopened the courtroom after about 30 minutes. She said from the bench that the public and media had been excluded to ensure Mancinas received a fair trial and so he could speak freely.
All records and transcripts related to the testimony were to be sealed.
“There was no other way to do this to allow Mr. Mancinas to have a fair trial,” Simonds said after reopening the court.
Prosecutors objected to the rare move, arguing Mancinas' work for the FBI already had been revealed in other testimony and that the public has a right to attend trials.
“We certainly favor an open courtroom with free access,” Deputy District Attorney Bob Waner said after Tuesday's closure.
The closure followed more than three hours of testimony from Mancinas, an ex-convict who apparently straddled the disparate worlds of gangs and cops.
He is charged along with three other Santa Rosa gang members with killing Dewey Tucker, 24, as Tucker drove to a music rehearsal on Interstate 80 in Contra Costa County.
Police believe the four men followed the wrong car out of a Vallejo apartment complex on Jan. 12, 2010, drove alongside it on the freeway and fired, killing Tucker, whom they thought was a rival.
Mancinas maintains the youngest defendant, Raul Vega, 20, did the shooting after breaking away from the group that included Hector Barragan, 30, in a stolen car driven by Javier Carreon-Lopez, 21.
The three other defendants will be tried later this year.
Mancinas took the stand for the first time Tuesday, explaining to jurors that he had driven to Vallejo that night to try to broker peace between two Santa Rosa gangs that had been at war since the 2009 slaying of 18-year-old Alejandro Ortega.