Jorge Banda, 25, of Ivanhoe, who had confessed to shooting and killing Sheriff Kent Haws, age 38, simply walked away after the shooting, several witnesses said at the murder trial on Tuesday, August 14. Banda pled not guilty by reason of insanity.
Defense attorney Lisa Strongin said there is not dispute that Banda shot Haws, but the question is whether he is guilty of premeditated murder. She said, according to court records, that Banda is mentally challenged and never was placed into special education classes, hears voices and has psychosis.
If Banda is convicted of first-degree murder with special circumstances of killing a police officer and gang-related homicide, he will face life in prison without the possibility of parole. Associated with a gang, Banda “gained considerable status in the gang” by killing a cop, said prosecutor David Alevezos. He then showed the jury a video of Banda’s re-enactment of the shooting.
Haws, a married man with three children, was shot five times, allegedly by Banda, including a bullet that lodged in the center of his forehead, said Alevezos to the 12 jury members sworn in, including nine women and three men. According to court records, the case is not being tried as a death penalty case because Banda’s IQ is below 70, making him ineligible for capital punishment, Tulare County Superior Court Judge Darryl Ferguson previously ruled, according to the report.
Emerging the first day of the trial was a synopsis of what happened about 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 17, 2007. According to court reports, witness Emma Toscano recounted that she and her husband were parked on a rural road near Ivanhoe waiting for a school bus to arrive when Haws stopped to find out why they were parked there.
“He was real polite,” she said and then recalled seeing a man walk out of an orange grove several yards away and Haws drove over to him to talk with him. Next in her testimony, according to reports, Toscano said she heard gunshots and then her husband said, “He shot him! The guy shot the sheriff!”
Another witness named Rebecca Vazala said she was a passenger in a car that was driving by just as Haws got out of his patrol car. “We heard a gunshot and I said, ‘what was that?’ “Vazala said. She saw Haws on the ground in front of his squad car. The shooter “was standing over the deputy’s body and he was pointing at the deputy,” Vazala said, immediately calling 911.
Sheriff’s Sgt. John Brown said he heard on the police radio a description of the suspect as “heavyset.” When he saw a heavyset young man walk out of an orange grove, Brown stopped his car and pulled out his gun. “He took his hands and placed them straight up,” Brown said, and admitted he had a gun.
When an officer arrived a minute later, according to Brown, Banda admitted he had a gun in his right pocket and the officer found the gun and handcuffed Banda. The trial is expected to last two to three weeks, said a spokesman.
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