Witnesses: Fight led to fatal shooting at Santa Rosa party

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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.

“That was not true,” he testified.

Legese said he saw Varela fire after Toney approached the teen and reached toward his own waistband. Legese said he made up the story about Khiobouakham because he was scared.

Riley said the investigation was hampered by a lack of cooperation from partygoers. Many told police they did not see the shooting, he said.

“We had many people who didn’t tell us the whole truth about that night,” Riley said.

Friends and family members of the victim and the defendants packed the courtroom Monday. Some wore T-shirts bearing Toney’s photograph. Others cried when Riley testified about Toney’s autopsy.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@press democrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

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