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Aguilera takes stand on final day of testimony

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Daniel Aguilera enters the courtroom Thursday in Carlsbad. (Teresa Lemon – Daily Press)

Daniel Aguilera testified this morning in Fifth Judicial Court in Carlsbad he shot 27-year-old Andres “Andy” Rojo and his 25-year-old brother Luis in the early-morning hours of July 5, 2015, because he felt he was in danger.

Aguilera, 23, took the stand today on Day Five of his trial on charges of second-degree murder in the death of Andy Rojo and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon for the non-fatal shooting of Luis Rojo, having told Judge Lisa B. Riley Thursday, “I want to tell my side of the story.”

Aguilera informed the court he wasn’t looking for trouble on the night of July 4, 2015.

“I was concentrating on my jobs, my girlfriend was pregnant, I was waiting for my urine test to get back so I could get my job back,” he said.

Aguilera said he had been dropped off that evening at the home of Savalo Huerta Gurrola, a neighbor of Luis Rojo and his ex-wife. At one point, Gurrola had departed to purchase more beer; Aguilera said he knew Gurrola was “upset” when he returned over something that had occurred down the street, but he stated he was unaware who lived down the street.

Aguilera told the court the group had been drinking all day and continued to do so after Gurrola’s return. A short time after that, Andy and Luis Rojo arrived at Gurrola’s residence. While Andy was speaking to Gurrola, Luis approached Aguilera in the carport.

Aguilera said at first, he didn’t know who was walking up, so he reached for his gun, which was tucked into his waistband.

“Luis told me, ‘You don’t need that, homito,’ and then I realized it was him, so I didn’t take the gun out of my waistband,” Aguilera said.

He stated he and Luis, and Andy and Gurrola spent a while talking, and that no confrontation erupted. Aguilera said they “squashed the beef” and that Gurrola agreed to company the Rojos back to Luis’ residence at 1407 Yucca Ave. for a drink.

“I didn’t go because it felt like Luis and Andy were looking for problems, and I wanted to stay out of trouble because I was gonna have a kid,” Aguilera said.

Aguilera told the court he felt there might be a fight between Gurrola and those present at 1407 Yucca but heard no noise coming from up the street. At one point, he and another acquaintance went into Gurrola’s backyard to “fire off some rounds.” He said he then “got careless” and fired shots in the middle of the street before reloading his gun and placing it back in his waistband.

His attorneys asked whether he fired those shots to make some sort of statement; Aguilera said no, it was just the “adult” version of fireworks.

Aguilera said he then sent two acquaintances down the street to request Gurrola return.

“I was on edge,” he said. “It seemed like he was down there a while.”

The two returned and said Gurrola wasn’t coming. Aguilera said he drank a few more beers and sent the pair again; they again said Gurrola declined to return.

Aguilera told the court he was ready to go home and wanted to know what Gurrola wanted him to do with his house when he left, so he made his way to 1407 Yucca. He said he took his weapon out of his waistband and placed it in his right front pocket “so it wouldn’t fall out.”

Aguilera said when he arrived at the Rojos’ home, he stepped up onto a grassy area at the edge of a next-door neighbor’s yard. He told the court Luis came to the edge of the fence at 1407 Yucca, and Aguilera told him he “just wanted to talk to Savalo.” Aguilera said when Andy heard him speaking, he turned and began walking toward him.

“That’s when I took my gun out of my pocket, held it by my side, and told him, ‘Dude, leave me the (expletive) alone,’ and I took steps back,” Aguilera said.

He said Andy continued to approach, so he raised his gun. Aguilera told the court his finger was not on the trigger; the laser was activated, something he said only happened when the gun was being held by the grip. He said he told Andy again to leave him alone, then raised the gun and pulled the trigger “because I saw him reach behind his back.”

He then stated he saw Luis “coming over the fence, so I turned and I fired at him, too. He was coming at me for a reason, to harm me or hurt me.”

Aguilera said he then ran and stated he did not enter a vehicle. To where he ran was not clear.

When asked if he saw anyone else with a gun, Aguilera said he did not, stating again he only saw Andy “reach behind his back. He reached and I fired in a split second. Then Luis came at me and I shot him and took off running. I didn’t hear anyone say ‘gun.’”

“Were you trying to kill Andy?” the defense asked.

“No, I was not,” Aguilera responded.

On cross-examination, the prosecution pointed out Aguilera was 20 years old at the time of the incident, drinking with a firearm and discharging it within city limits while also not holding a concealed-carry permit.

On Thursday, defense attorneys Craig Alcorn and Gokul Krishna Sripada called their lone witness to the stand.

The defense brought forth Gurrola, at whose home Aguilera was partying on the evening in question.

Gurrola testified he and Aguilera had become acquainted through mutual friends and saw one another “every other weekend or so.” On that day, Aguilera was in attendance at a family picnic with Gurrola. At around 11:40 p.m., the two were driven back to Gurrola’s home on Yucca Avenue.

Gurrola told the court upon arrival, he realized the group was low on beer and asked another acquaintance to drive him to the Rojo residence at 1407 Yucca Ave. in order to request a “pullout,” which Gurrola defined as the purchase of alcohol for someone who has money but no proper identification.

He said Andy Rojo “was being cocky” and denied the request; he then approached a female on the block, who purchased the beer, and Gurrola returned to his home to resume drinking with Aguilera and two other acquaintances.

Gurrola said he did not tell Aguilera what had happened down the street.

A short time later, Andy and Luis Rojo arrived at Gurrola’s home, the group talked, and Gurrola agreed to return to the Rojo residence to drink. Just after midnight, Gurrola said he saw Aguilera arrive at the home and “get in a confrontation” with Andy.

“I saw Andy reaching from behind,” Gurrola told the court. “I was watching Luis. I heard a gunshot. I ran.”

Gurrola said prior to the gunshot when Aguilera first arrived at the residence, Andy and Luis Rojo “surrounded him.” When asked how he felt at the time, he stated, “Not right. I was feeling that bottle. Andy was just giving me a look, I saw him reach for something I didn’t see when he was confronting Daniel.”

He later elaborated that it was “uncomfortable for (Andy) to be standing behind me when his brother was talking to me.”

Gurrola was asked if he said anything when he saw Andy “reach;” he replied he had stated, in Spanish, “He’s reaching for a gun.”

The prosecution asked Gurrola if anyone had been behaving confrontationally during his time at the Rojo residence. He responded in the negative. He was asked if he was at 1407 Yucca against his will.

“No, I just wanted to resolve a problem,” Gurrola said, stating no physical fight took place, and he never saw a weapon.

Earlier in the day, the prosecution called to the stand Myra Barnum, an evidence technician with the Artesia Police Department, and Sgt. Christopher Gallegos, who at that time was a member of the APD’s Criminal Investigation Division. Gallegos was promoted to patrol sergeant Dec. 17, 2017.

Barnum testified she found six live rounds of .380-caliber ammunition in the street in front of Gurrola’s home. No spent shell casings or weapons were found at the scene.

Gallegos was asked whether police had spoken with all residents in the neighborhood. He stated not all had answered their doors, pointing out reluctance to cooperate with authorities was not uncommon in such incidents.

He said he had identified a residence that appeared to have an outdoor camera but no one answered the door at that home.

“You have the authority to make them speak with you but you didn’t try?” the defense asked Gallegos.

“I don’t have the authority to force witnesses to talk to me,” Gallegos said.

He stated he had no probable cause to obtain a warrant and no reason to believe the camera in question was operating at the time of the shooting.

Closing arguments in the case began at 1:30 p.m. today.

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