Jose Raul Corrales holds his great-grandson. Corrales was shot to death in West Long Beach on Oct. 9, 2018. Photo courtesy Jerry Amaya-Rodriguez.
Jose Raul Corrales holds his great-grandson. Corrales was shot to death in West Long Beach on Oct. 9, 2018. Photo courtesy Jerry Amaya-Rodriguez.

Trial began Thursday for two men accused of killing a 69-year-old grandfather during a drive-by shooting in 2018, with prosecutors saying the two men were “prowling” for Hispanic gang members in the area after one of their relatives was involved in a fight at Cabrillo High School earlier in the day.

Prosecutors allege that Terrel Warren, 28, and Rhyan Burrell 25, shot and killed Jose Raul Corrales as he was watering a tree outside his home in the area of Summit Street and Canal Avenue, just east of Cabrillo High School. Another man driving by at the time was also shot in the back but survived.

During opening statements, Deputy District Attorney Robert Song told jurors that Warren and Burrell had been hunting for Hispanic gang members after one of their relatives had been “accosted” by a group of Hispanic students at Cabrillo High School.

The fight prompted a meeting on Oct. 9, 2018. That morning, Song said, Burrell, driving a gold Nissan Altima, dropped off Warren and a few other family members at Cabrillo High School where they talked to administrators.

Burrell, after parking the Altima, joined the rest of the group inside the school, Song said, adding that police had to be called after the conversation with administrators became “heated.”

Later in the afternoon, the same gold Nissan Altima was seen driving for several minutes around the area of Summit Street and Canal Avenue while Corrales watered a plant outside, Song said. At some point, the same car approached Corrales’ grandchildren as they were walking to the 69-year-old’s home, Song added.

That’s when Warren, who was in the passenger seat, asked the group where they were from, a common phrase used by gangsters to check for any gang affiliation, Song said. Corrales’ grandchildren said they didn’t “bang,” and Warren responded with an expletive and a derogatory word used against Hispanic gang members, Song said.

Corrales’ grandchildren made it home safely, but just minutes later, gunfire rang out in multiple directions, Song said. It’s not exactly clear who the target was, but by the time it was over, the 69-year-old grandfather had been shot and bullet casings were scattered everywhere, Song said. Corrales died at the scene despite efforts by his grandchildren to save his life.

One of Jose Raul Corrales’ grandkids sits next to his memorial the day after he was killed in Long Beach. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Police responded, but the gold Nissan Altima was gone. Detectives later learned about the earlier fight at Cabrillo High School and the heated conversation with administrators.

Detectives then showed Warren’s picture to Corrales’ grandchildren, who identified the 28-year-old as the man in the Altima who had asked them where they were from, Song said. After conducting surveillance and tracking phone records from the day of the shooting, detectives determined that Burrell was the driver at the time of the shooting and that Warren was in the passenger seat, Song alleged.

The two men were arrested a few weeks later. Following their arrest, the two were recorded talking with an undercover agent about the crime, Song said.

During one conversation, Burrell appears concerned that police might check his fridge if they serve a warrant at his home in Lynwood while Warren admits to using a 9mm while the other shooter used a .40 caliber, Song said. Eventually, officers found a .40 caliber gun in Burrell’s freezer and tied it to the deadly shooting on Oct. 9, 2018. In another conversation, Warren can be heard telling Burrell that police “found the ice cream” at his home, according to Song.

Warren and Burrell’s attorney attacked the case as the trial began Thursday.

Warren’s attorney, Adam Koppekin, said evidence would prove that Warren never fired any weapon and that there were one to two other people in the vehicle that could have been the shooters. He said authorities discovered one of the guns used in the shooting during another arrest unrelated to Warren, which proved someone else could have been the shooter.

“What happened that day was tragic, a life was lost,” Koppekin told jurors. “At the end of the day … if you have a reasonable doubt with any element of the crime, you must acquit my client.”

Burrell’s attorney, Charles Frisco, like Koppekin, said witnesses would reveal that there were at least three to four people inside the vehicle Burrell is accused of driving at the time of the crime, and, he added, witnesses would only be able to place Warren, and not Burrell, at the scene.

He added that prosecutors missed that Warren’s younger brother was also in the car with them and could account for being the other shooter.

He also told jurors that any concern Burrell showed during jail recordings about police discovering something in his freezer was him simply being worried he might be implicated for accessory after the fact.

“You will see my client is not guilty of the charges,” Frisco said.

Warren and Burrell each face one count of murder, six counts of attempted murder, one count of shooting at an occupied dwelling or vehicle, and one count of unlawful firearm activity, court records show.

While both sides agree on some of the facts of what happened on Oct. 9, 2018 — including that tensions were high in the area after a fight between Hispanic students and Black students broke out at the school, and that Warren and Burrell went to the school that morning to talk to administrators about it — the prosecution and defense’s cases diverge on the details of the shooting itself and its aftermath.

Koppekin and Frisco each say the evidence against their clients doesn’t prove they committed any crime or were at the scene of the shooting.

But Song said there’s a slew of evidence — including both guns used in the shooting, witness and police testimony, surveillance video captured at the school and the neighborhood where the shooting occurred, along with jailhouse recordings — the shows the defendants are guilty of murder and attempted murder.

“The proof is overwhelming,” Song said.

Warren and Burrell have each remained in custody without bail ever since their arrests.