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Judge Weighs Evidence Against Trio Accused Of Plot To Kill Justice Afoa

Suspects Daniela Guzman, Rafael Tovar and Daniel Howard appear at hearing before Judge Thomas Reardon in Alameda County Superior Court.

 

Alameda County prosecutor Elgin Lowe began laying out the evidence today that Daniel Howard, Rafael Tovar and Daniela Guzman had planned and carried out the murder of Justice Afoa, 17, who died face down on a Newark sidewalk on December 15, 2010.

All three have pled not guilty in connection with the fatal stabbing that, authorities say, occurred about three months after Afoa was involved in a teenage brawl that allegedly led to a revenge killing.

The purpose of this preliminary hearing before presiding Judge Thomas Reardon is to determine whether authorities have sufficient evidence to go to trial.

Lowe began to lay out his case calling Newark police officer Anthony Heckman, who took charge of the scene at Cedar Boulevard and Birch Street where Afoa died shortly before 4 pm ten days before Christmas 2010.

Newark detective Adecili Kovach told the court that she had interviewed two eyewitnesses at the scene. They gave slightly different versions of a story in which two "Hispanic" men came upon Afoa. One witness said the two assailants began beating on Afoa as he ran; the other witness said the attackers only began hitting the victim after he fell to the sidewalk.

Defense attorney Fred Lang, representing Tovar, established that neither witnesses told police they had seen the attackers' faces -- with the exception that one witness had seen light facial hair, described as a five-o'clock shadow, on one assailant.

From court testimony Newark police quickly decided there was possible gang involvement in the killing and called gang specialist Lisa Schwerin to investigate.

Schwerin testified Tuesday that she was told that Guzman might know about the incident. She said she had interviewed Guzman that night -- the 19-year-old defendant had come down to the Newark police station willingly -- and extracted data from Guzman's cell phone, also with the defendant's consent.

During this interview, and a second on December 20, Schwerin testified that Guzman spoke of ill will between some members of the Newark High football team -- Afoa had been a player -- and Hispanic students.

The court then recessed.

The mood inside the courtroom was somber.

Members of Afoa's extended Samoan family filled the right side of the courtroom.

Relatives of Howard and the other defendants sat on the left.

Although court was in session for about three hours before the recess, only one hour was devoted to testimony on the Afoa case.

During the first two hours, Judge Reardon was presented with evidence in an allied case.

In that case it is alleged that Howard -- one of the three defendants in the Afoa killing -- was caught by Fremont police last November in the act of trying to hang his girlfriend.

Howard's alleged motive, prosecutor Lowe told Patch, was that Howard suspected that his girlfriend, then three months pregnant, had actually been impregnated by Howard's best friend, Tovar, his fellow-defendant in the Afoa case.

Patch will update this report.

Maria January 23, 2013 at 06:25 AM
I say punishment should be what they did. You take a life, we take yours. Why should we pay our tax dollars to provide shelter, clothing, food and medical expenses. I can find better ways to spend my money like helping the homeless. Getting others on their feet. I don't care what these three have to say. We all know right from wrong and if you get caught then suffer the consequences. I'm just sad that innocent families have to be pulled into their stupidity.

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