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Witnesses: Fight led to fatal shooting at Santa Rosa party

Witnesses testified Monday that a man shot dead outside a Santa Rosa party had been fighting inside with his suspected killer’s cousin just minutes before he was gunned down.

Damien Wadell Toney Jr., 20, was seen choking the cousin, identified in court as Paula Brisco, in the Piner Road apartment early New Year’s Eve, police Detective Andrew Riley said at a preliminary hearing.

The two, who had a child together, apparently got into a fight in front of about 25 other partygoers, Riley said. Toney was kicked out and continued a confrontation with Brisco’s cousin, then 15-year-old Joseph Mario Varela, Riley said.

Varela pulled a gun and shot Toney in the chest, police and other party guests said. Police believe Varela’s friend, Manuel Khiobouakham, 19, also fired on Toney.

After initially denying his role, Varela told police he aimed the gun at Toney just to scare him, Riley said. But he said he ended up shooting Toney when the older man punched him in the chin, he said.

Riley said an autopsy showed Toney was shot twice in the chest with two different guns. The gun Varela is believed to have used, a .45-caliber pistol, was found in a friend’s house, Riley said.

It was unclear what evidence linked Khiobouakham to the slaying. He was arrested a month later when he appeared in court on an unrelated matter.

Both are charged with murder and gang participation. Varela, who is now 16 and being housed at juvenile hall, is to be tried as an adult.

They have pleaded not guilty.

Another person at the party, Abel Legese, testified that he arrived at the party with Varela, Khiobouakham and two other men. He identified Varela as the shooter and admitted in halting testimony that he initially lied to officers that Khiobouakham pointed a gun at Toney.

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