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Gang-Related Capital Murder Trial Begins in Tampa
Opening statements were given earlier this week in the Tampa capital murder trial of 17-year-old Esteban Rivera. Back on November 30, 2007, Rivera, then 15 years old, was involved in a drive-by shooting in East Tampa.
Rivera has been charged with capital murder in the death of 19-year-old Andre Coachman, who died from a single gunshot to the head. He was shot as he walked down the street with two other men at about 8:30 that night.
Prosecutors intend to call witnesses to testify that Rivera took credit for participating in the shooting.
Prosecutors say that Rivera and a friend, LaBronx Bailey, both fired handguns from the bed of a pickup truck. Apparently, the victim and his companions were believed to be members of another gang which had assaulted Bailey’s cousin in prison. Bailey has also been charged with murder and is awaiting trial.
A third man, Tra Evan Lineberger, fired a shotgun from inside the truck. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is serving a 28-year sentence. He is expected to testify against Rivera.
In their opening statements, prosecutors conceded that they can’t prove which handgun fired the fatal shot. Rivera allegedly fired a 9mm and Bailey allegedly fired at .357 Magnum. Forensic tests could not definitively determine which gun fired the bullet that killed Coachman.
The State intends to argue that Rivera and Bailey were equally responsible as principles or “partners in crime” – that they had a joint intent and acted in concert to commit the homicide.
The defense also gave its opening statement, zeroing in on the lack of physical evidence. They also contend that there was no intent to kill anyone that night – just an intent to scare. Rivera’s criminal defense attorney, however, directed blame at Rivera’s co-defendant, Bailey, suggesting that he was the only one with a motive.
The inability to conclusively match the bullet to Rivera’s gun may well cause serious problems for the prosecution’s case. In this era of CSI television shows, jurors are very often keyed in to physical evidence and forensic examination. Unfortunately for the defense, Rivera’s gang affiliation may negate any positive momentum that the forensic deficiencies create.
Rivera is also one of five juveniles charged last month in a foiled plan to escape the Orient Road jail by slashing a detention deputy’s throat. He is charged with conspiracy to commit murder and escape from confinement in that pending case. He is presumed innocent until proven guilty.