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Death penalty trial starts in double murder case
BAKERSFIELD, CA - The death penalty case for a 2010 double homicide is underway as Erran West is accused of killing a couple over $50.
The trial is four years in the making. The prosecution said a witness and cell phone data make it clear that West killed two people. But, the defense says it plans to poke holes in all of it.
On September 4 2010, a man was found shot dead in a vacant lot. The next morning a woman was discovered dead in an orchard, seemingly unrelated homicides until police find out the victims knew each other and owed money to Erran West.
"The fact that he owed him something is clear, and there's evidence to that," said Jim Simson, Deputy District Attorney.
West is accused of killing both 43-year-old Ernastine Trejo and 58-year-old Levon Vines.
Opening arguments began Thursday morning. The prosecution's case is based on the testimony from an eyewitness who describes events as follows. It started out as a normal Saturday night when a woman picked up West and later Trejo and Vines.
"It was a night that she would later describe to detectives: a night like a nightmare that wouldn't end," said Simson.
The witness says they stopped on Collins Way. West and Vines got out of the car and West shot Vines six times, three shots to the chest and three to the head.
"He gets in the car, West does and simply says drive," said Simson.
The witness says they ended up at Edison Highway, where West and Trejo got out of the car. The witness said West then shot Trejo in the head, got back in the car and told the witness this.
"I've already got people set up to kill you," said Simson.
The defense contends West was not involved in these murders at all.
"Fundamentally, the biggest question is who did it and whether the prosecution can prove Mr. West did it. They cannot because he did not," said Michael Lukeheart, West's attorney.
The defense also pointed fingers, not at West but the witness.
"She's not stupid," said Lukeheart. "She knows it's better to be an informant than a defendant."
All the while West sat stone-faced in the courtroom awaiting his fate from the jury. West has always and still asserts his innocence, pleading not guilty to all counts.
The trial is expected to last a couple of weeks.