Defendants in Healdsburg pot garden slaying claim innocence

Attorneys for two men on trial for a Healdsburg-area pot garden slaying contended Friday that another man was the killer and that the prosecution's key witness is lying.

Sidonio Cruz-Santos, 36, of Santa Rosa and Agustin Zepeda-Onofre, 25, of Windsor are charged with murder in the 2011 death off Chemise Road of Gabino Lopez-Santiago, 46, of Healdsburg.

The prosecution's case has rested almost entirely on the testimony of former co-defendant Ramon Lopez-Velasco, 29, of Healdsburg — the victim's brother-in-law — who took the stand under a grant of immunity.

Lopez-Velasco, a marijuana trimmer, didn't see the shooting but heard gunshots and arrived to find the two defendants holding guns. Zepeda-Onofre had the victim's blood on his clothes.

He said they forced him to load the body into a pickup truck and dump it a few miles away on Mill Creek Road.

The defense, however, argued that his story doesn't make sense. Attorney Kristine Burk said it fails to take into account the only person with a motive to kill the victim, a fifth man who was seen arguing with him the night of the slaying.

Burk said Conrado Valentin-Cruz, who remains at large, likely grabbed a gun and shot Lopez-Santiago. She suggested Lopez-Velasco lied to cover up his own involvement.

"Ramon has sold a bill of goods and the people have jumped on board and taken it to the next level," Burk told jurors in her closing argument.

Deputy District Attorney Anne Masterson defended her reliance on the man once charged with murder in the case, saying a witness would have some level of involvement.

She chalked up his inconsistent statements to fear. If Valentin-Cruz had wanted to kill the victim he could have had a better opportunity, she said.

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