A Santa Rosa man testified Wednesday he arranged a marijuana deal that left one person dead, saying he only wanted to help the victim resolve his financial problems.
Elias Alfaro testified that Jose Manuel de Jesus, 33, of Santa Rosa told him last fall that he needed to sell some pot to raise money. De Jesus intended to use the proceeds to help his family in Mexico and to throw a baptismal party, which he would videotape and show people back home, Alfaro said.
"That's what compelled him to seek easy money," Alfaro said through an interpreter.
So Alfaro testified he put de Jesus in touch with his friend, Juan Ramon Lopez-Castillo, 28, a clerk at a rural Todd Road butcher shop who met with de Jesus and arranged to buy about 10 pounds.
But de Jesus never got his money. On Oct. 6, his body was found in the trunk of a parked car outside Carniceria Contreras with a bullet in his head.
Police arrested Lopez-Castillo as well as his younger brother, alleged gunman Fernando Lopez-Castillo, 25, also of Santa Rosa. A cousin, Alberto Lopez-Barraza, 33, of Hayward, and fourth man, Jose Carraballo Mejias, 54, of Santa Rosa, also were held.
All are charged with first-degree murder and face life in prison without parole if convicted.
Alfaro was the first witness at a preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for a trial. Clad in a western shirt, green jeans and wearing a rodeo belt buckle, Alfaro seemed confused about the proceedings.
Alfaro testified that he met de Jesus seven years earlier when the two worked in the vineyards. Two months before the slaying, de Jesus told him he needed to sell pot to get money for his mother and brother, Alfaro said.
Just where the pot came from was not revealed.
About the same time, Alfaro testified he befriended Juan Ramon Lopez-Castillo, whom he described a "trustworthy" employee who also sold cars in the front lot of the meat shop south of Santa Rosa city limits.
Alfaro said he heard through a friend that Lopez-Castillo was dealing pot so he introduced the two men at a Starbucks at Stony Point and Sebastopol roads a few days before the killing.
Lopez-Castillo arrived with Mejias and the two looked at a sample de Jesus had brought. They were willing to pay his price — $1,300 a pound — and indicated they were interested in "large quantities," Alfaro said.
The men talked later by phone to set up the transaction, Alfaro said.
Police believe de Jesus was killed when he showed up to make the deal.
Sonoma County Sheriff's Sgt. Carlos Basurto testified Barraza admitted waiting in the meat shop parking lot with the other three defendants.
In a police interview after his arrest, Lopez-Barraza said he was removing boxes from the trunk of de Jesus' blue Dodge Intrepid when he heard a shot and looked up to see Fernando Lopez-Castillo holding a gun and saying "I killed him," Basurto testified.
They fled in their own car but were tracked down, in part using information from a cellphone left at the scene.