The trial in a case against two men accused of killing an innocent bystander and injuring a teenager at a taco truck more than two and a half years ago began Friday, with prosecutors telling jurors that the suspects are gang members who fired their weapons that night in hopes of gunning down a rival Hispanic gang member.
Each defendant’s attorney, meanwhile, denied that their clients were to blame for the shooting and cast doubt on the evidence and the police investigation.
Authorities say Jacquise Wright, 33, and Tyquan Benson, 27, shot and killed Alejandra Martinez, 36, as she was awaiting her order at the taco truck on Anaheim Street and Magnolia Avenue the night of Dec. 4, 2020. A 17-year-old was also shot but survived.
In his opening statements, Deputy District Attorney Robert Song said Wright and Benson were both members of the Insane Baby Crips, and he told jurors that a slew of evidence—including gang expert and witness testimony, surveillance video from a gas station across the street and a liquor store the defendants visited before the shooting, along with jail recordings in which, according to authorities, Wright and Benson can be heard admitting to the crime—prove the defendants are culpable for murder and attempted murder.
Wright’s attorney, Carlin Yuen, called the case a “complete tragedy,” but said the evidence in question was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
She said her client was not guilty of murder or attempted murder, and that the the evidence would prove the police investigation was incomplete, leaving more “questions than answers.”
“Keep an open mind,” Yuen told jurors.
Benson’s attorney, Theida Salazar, acknowledged that Martinez “needlessly and senselessly” lost her life, but said that it was not at the hands of his client.
While both sides agree on some of the facts of what happened on the night of Dec. 4, 2020—including that the defendants and the victim were all patrons of the food truck—the prosecution and defense’s cases diverge on the details of the shooting itself and its aftermath.
For Benson’s part, while he did go to the taco truck that night to get food for his family, his attorney, Salazar, argued that he wasn’t there when the shooting happened and that there weren’t any witnesses that could place him at the scene. Wright’s attorney did not say where her client was on the night of the shooting.
But Song told a different story to jurors. And while the prosecutor’s version of events appears to align with video of the incident that was played for the jury, Benson’s and Wright’s attorneys deny that their clients are the people seen in the surveillance footage.
According to Song, Wright and Benson arrived to the taco truck in the same car that night sometime around 11 p.m. They ordered their food and were told it would be a 10-minute wait, Song said, so they left in a car, heading to a liquor store down the block on Cedar Avenue.
The two eventually returned for their food at the truck, Song said, but they did so in two separate cars to avoid the chance of being an easy target in case a shooting happened back at the truck, which a gang detective testified was located in a rival gang neighborhood.
Once they arrived at the taco truck, Wright and Benson parked their vehicles and got their orders, Song said. Around the same time, a group of Hispanic men and women arrived to the truck, he said.
Though authorities initially said Wright or Benson had verbally confronted the group, video evidence played in court shows the pair of people prosecutors say are Wright and Benson go back into their individual cars without interacting with the group.
Moments later, however, the person prosecutors say is Wright pulls out of a parking space and exits onto southbound Magnolia Avenue, while Benson goes southbound in the parking lot as if he’s headed toward Anaheim Street, the video shows.
But rather than going onto the street, prosecutors say Benson, from his car, opened fire on the group of people, while Wright, in his car on Magnolia Avenue, did the same.
A third person, whom police have yet to identify, allegedly returned fire using a semi-automatic weapon, according to prosecutors.
All the while, Martinez stood nearby, not knowing she would soon be in the line of fire. She had just gotten off work when she decided to go with her cousin to the taco truck just after 11 p.m.
She was standing next to her cousin, waiting under a canopy to pick up her food, when the gunfire erupted, Song said. The 36-year-old was struck in the chest by the gunfire and was rushed to a hospital, where she died.
Wright and Benson are accused of then fleeing the scene, and they were both later arrested on Feb. 18, 2021, following an investigation that led police to Benson’s car, according to authorities. During Wright’s arrest, officers located a gun that matched the casings found at the scene of the crime.
Benson had already disposed of his by that point, Song said.
“I got rid of it,” Benson can be heard saying during a jail recording after an inmate asks him what he did with the gun.
A year later, however, the gun was discovered during an unrelated arrest in Las Vegas, Song said and after testing, it was tied back to the shooting. Authorities also discovered posts made by Benson on social media five days after the shooting, attempting to sell a gun, Song said.
To further tie Benson and Wright to the shooting, Song showed jurors a note that Benson had allegedly written in March while in jail. Authorities intercepted the note, which said that he needed to meet with his crime partner so that could come to an agreement and argue that the shooting was in self-defense because someone shot at them first, Song said.
Wright and Benson have both remained jailed in lieu of $3.25 million and $3.3 million bail, respectively, ever since their arrest.
Arguments in the case are slated to continue next week.