Josue Orozco, who was only 14 at the time of the murder, made headlines for being the youngest person to be charged with murder as an adult in San Mateo County Superior Court, and for escaping from a youth services center following his arrest.
He is alleged to have shot 21-year-old Francisco Rodriguez once in the back of the head in Redwood City on July 12, 2005, killing him almost instantly, prosecutor Josh Stauffer said in court today.
Orozco's defense attorney, Raymond Buenaventura, said during his opening statement that Orozco, now 19, did not shoot Rodriguez. He said the man driving the car that Orozco and several others were in at the time of the killing was the shooter.
Buenaventura said the actual shooter was a "shot-caller" among the group of people Orozco associated with, many of whom were Sureno gang members, he said.
"He tells you what to do and if you don't do it, you'll get killed," Buenaventura said.
He said Orozco was told to take the blame for the murder and that he complied because he is "mildly mentally retarded" and "a quiet, shy person who can't really speak up for himself."
Stauffer, who claims Orozco was also a Sureno, said the shooting was gang-related because Rodriguez was a former member of the Norteno gang, a rival to the Surenos.
Orozco is charged with first-degree murder with the special circumstance of committing the crime in furtherance of a street gang, as well as an enhancement for using a firearm to inflict great bodily injury or death, according to the district attorney's office.
The special circumstance would normally make a defendant eligible for the death penalty, but because Orozco was a minor at the time of the shooting he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole instead.
While he was in custody for the murder at the San Mateo County Youth Services Center, he scaled a wall and escaped on Feb. 14, 2008.
He was arrested again on Sept. 17, 2008, in San Antonio, Texas, and was extradited back to San Mateo County the following month.
Stauffer asked the jury at the end of his opening statement to convict Orozco in the "cold-blooded murder."
The trial was scheduled to resume this afternoon.