Trial begins in Healdsburg pot garden slaying

The trial of two Sonoma County men charged in a Healdsburg-area pot garden slaying began Tuesday with testimony from a co-defendant.

Sidonio Cruz-Santos, 36, of Santa Rosa and Augustin Zepeda-Onofre, 25, of Windsor are charged with murdering Gabino Lopez-Santiago, 46, of Healdsburg near the remote field off Chemise Road.

Their trial was postponed because of publicity surrounding an unrelated triple homicide in February during a pot deal near Forestville. Defense attorneys feared jurors would make an unfair comparison.

With the Forestville case on hold while the last of three defendants awaits extradition from New Mexico, jurors heard testimony from a man who reached a plea bargain with prosecutors in the Chemise Road killing.

Ramon Lopez-Velasco, 29, of Healdsburg -- the brother-in-law of the victim -- had originally been charged with murder. He pleaded to being an accessory to cultivation in a deal that required his truthful testimony.

He said he was looking for temporary work when he was hired by Cruz-Santos to trim and dry marijuana plants.

He said both defendants carried handguns around the wooded property and managed a second pot garden not far away. They told him they were growing the marijuana for a disabled Santa Rosa woman.

The night of the killing, Oct. 15, 2011, the defendants, Lopez-Santiago and his roommate, Conrado Valentin-Cruz, were at the garden, drinking heavily. An argument broke out between Lopez-Santiago and Valentin-Cruz because Valentin-Cruz's wife learned he had been using cocaine, prosecutor Anne Masterson said.

At one point, Cruz-Santos pulled out his gun and ordered them all to leave, saying "the devil's tempting me," Masterson said.

She said Lopez-Velasco heard gunfire as he walked to get a truck. He returned to find his brother-in-law's body on the ground, Masterson said.

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