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.
But she conceded it was impossible to know exactly what happened. "There may be things you will never know," she told the jury. "Because none of us was there."
The closing arguments capped more than a week of testimony. Jurors were expected to begin deliberations Monday.
The slaying is among several in recent years that have been tied to Sonoma County's lucrative marijuana trade.
In February, three men were shot to death in a cabin near Forestville in what investigators said was a pot deal that turned violent. Two suspects are in custody and a third man is fighting extradition from his home state of New Mexico.
In December, two men were convicted of murder for a marijuana-related rip-off in 2011 outside a Santa Rosa meat market.
Prosecutors in the Chemise Road murder trial theorized the slaying could be a "natural and probable consequence" of operating a marijuana garden. The defendants were armed and showed a willingness to protect the garden from intruders, Masterson said.
But defense attorneys maintained the killing was not about marijuana but was the result of a personal dispute between two men. Attorney George Boisseau said the victim and the fugitive, Valentin-Cruz, got into a fight after Valentin-Cruz's wife learned he was using cocaine.
He said police didn't go after the man because they wanted to believe their star witness. Burk said detectives found blood-soaked pants in his house but never tested them.
"It's a one-witness case," Boisseau said. "A witness that is bought and paid for by the prosecution."