March 10, 2001 - Tucson, Arizona.
Easter Gunbattle Left 2 Dead, 2 Hurt
Jury acquits first teen of all shootout charges
By Inger Sandal
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
A jury acquitted Rodolfo M. Gutierrez Jr. yesterday of all charges related to a
deadly gunbattle on South Sixth Avenue last Easter. Gutierrez, 18, was accused of first-degree murder in the death of Robert Moreno,a 15-year-old boy shot to death at the wheel of his white Thunderbird. Jurors cleared him of that charge as well as attempted murder and aggravated assault counts stemming from the early morning shootout that left two teens dead and critically wounded at least two others.
"This was a very difficult case," said Deputy County Attorney Kellie Garcia. Garcia had argued that Gutierrez was guilty as an accomplice for getting his friend, Armando Francisco Rodriguez, to fire an AK-47 at Moreno's car shortly before 2 a.m. on April 23.
Earlier that week, Gutierrez had told a girl at Cholla High School that if he found Moreno cruising South Sixth, he would blast him with an "AK" because of an earlier fight, she maintained.
But defense attorney David A. Darby said Gutierrez was only looking for a fistfight and had no idea Rodriguez was going to start shooting.
"Why (Rodriguez) did what he did that night, only Armando, his lawyers and God knows," Darby said. "It was a 100 percent, dead-on right verdict. Not only was he not guilty - he was innocent."
Gutierrez testified that he was standing in the street prepared to fight a passenger in Moreno's car, which was stopped in front of a muffler shop at 3616 S. Sixth Ave., when he heard gunfire. He said he turned and ran without seeing anyone fire a gun.
Darby maintained that Rodriguez, 19, had been standing in a crowd of more than 30 teens when he leveled an AK-47 assault rifle at the Thunderbird and started "blasting."
Jurors were told three men in a Chevrolet Blazer drew 9 mm handguns and fired back into the crowd until they ran out of ammunition. People in the crowd drew guns and fired at the Blazer, some using a bus stop for cover as they shot into the street.
Friends drove Rodriguez, who was shot in the chest, to a hospital. Gutierrez was shot in the leg and caught a ride with strangers. Police found another youth on the ground who was shot in the neck, but everyone else was gone except victims Moreno and Juan Lujan, 17, who was fatally shot in the head while standing in the crowd.
Teens on both sides of the shootout attended Gutierrez's trial, and court officials labored to keep them separated in hopes of maintaining peace. The court was crowded with uniformed officers yesterday, and Superior Court Judge Richard Fields warned the gallery that he would have "zero tolerance" for outbursts.
Moreno's mother quietly walked out of the courtroom while the verdicts were announced. The victim's other relatives and friends, who had been sitting behind the prosecutor, also left without comment.
Gutierrez's mother, Dora Aleman, said she was confident of her son's innocence. "We knew he didn't do it. We knew this was the verdict we were going to hear," she said.
Aleman said Gutierrez plans to attend college or a technical school. "He's going back to being a normal 18-year-old kid - a young man who, I'm sure, has learned from this and will make better choices."
Rodriguez's trial in the incident is scheduled to begin July 24. He faces first-degree murder in Moreno's slaying and second-degree murder in Lujan's death.
Both the prosecution and the defense agreed the trial offered a disturbing look at the prevalance of guns among some teens who cruise. "They carry guns like they carry wallets and keys," Darby said.
Even his client, Gutierrez, testified that no one questioned why his friend showed off the AK-47 earlier that night.
"It's not like it was 25 to 30 years ago when you could cruise Speedway and nothing more would happen than a fistfight," Darby said. "When you get hundreds of kids that are out in cars with alcohol and drugs and guns, it's just a recipe for disaster."
That shooting was one of two early Easter morning that left three teens dead, triggering a police crackdown on teen cruising and a communitywide effort to prevent teen violence.