Another Monclair gang shooting of an Ontario Tongan gang member

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Another Monclair gang shooting of an Ontario Tongan gang member

Post  Guest on Fri Oct 02, 2009 10:10 pm

Murder trial begins for Montclair man's 2008 shooting death
Will Bigham, Staff Writer
Created: 09/28/2009 08:06:49 PM PDT


RANCHO CUCAMONGA - A night of drinking and socializing following last year's Super Bowl turned deadly for 19-year-old Lotu Palei, who was shot three times and killed in a Montclair alley.
The man charged with his murder, Ruben Castellanoz, faced a jury Monday during the first day of testimony in his murder trial in West Valley Superior Court.

A prosecutor called Castellanoz, 23, "one of the worst kinds of dangers to society" in her opening statement, and Castellanoz's former girlfriend took the witness stand and identified the Montclair man as the shooter in the Feb. 4, 2008, incident.

According to his attorney, Castellanoz feared Palei because of Palei's apparent gang affiliation, and believed Palei had a gun the night of the killing. Palei was unarmed, according to police and prosecutors.

Castellanoz's attorney, Andrew Haynal, said in an interview that Castellanoz will likely testify in his own defense.

Castellanoz has no criminal history, which keeps many defendants from testifying because prosecutors can reveal a defendant's criminal background to jurors if the defendant testifies.

Deputy District Attorney Mary Izadi told jurors in her opening statement that Castellanoz was motivated to shoot Palei not for reasons of self-defense, but rather viewed the killing as "a way to earn some stripes and some credibility on the streets."

Castellanoz, his girlfriend and three other people were hanging out in an alley and


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drinking alcohol near Castellanoz's apartment after they finished watching the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, 2008, said Castellanoz's girlfriend, Cecilia Campos, in her testimony Monday.
It was after midnight when Palei walked up the group near the intersection of Ramona Avenue and Bandera Street, shouted the name of an Ontario street gang, and told the group they were making too much noise, Campos testified.

He also kept one of his hands in his pockets. Campos said she believed he may have been holding a gun in his pocket.

What was initially a tense encounter became more friendly after some members of the group recognized Palei and socialized with him for the next half-hour, Campos testified.

During Palei's visit, he received a phone call on his cell phone and a truck soon pulled up, Campos said. Palei walked over to the truck and completed what appeared to be a drug transaction, Campos said.

Campos said she didn't witness any tension between Palei and Castellanoz, but she was absent from the group for three or four minutes while she used the bathroom at her boyfriend's apartment.

When she returned, Castellanoz excused himself from the group. He said he had to go to his apartment to use the bathroom.

Campos said her boyfriend's statement struck her as unusual because the men in the group had been urinating in the alley rather than using a toilet.

Shortly after Castellanoz returned to the group, Campos said she heard a gunshot and turned and saw her boyfriend pointing a revolver at Palei. Castellanoz fired two more shots at Palei, Campos said.

In the days following the killing, Campos said she asked her boyfriend why he shot Castellanoz.

"I don't know. I don't know what got into me," Castellanoz responded, according to Campos.

In his cross-examination of Campos, Haynal questioned Campos's motivation for testifying against her former boyfriend, who she said she dated for nearly three years.

Campos was jailed and charged as an accessory to the killing for initially lying to police about the incident, she testified.

She reached a plea bargain with prosecutors last year that will spare her additional jail time in exchange for truthful testimony.

Police arrested Castellanoz about five months after Palei, of Montclair, was killed.

Castellanoz bragged about the killing during a conversation with a friend who was acting as a police informant and secretly recording the conversation in July last year, Izadi told jurors.

In the recording, portions of which Izadi played in the courtroom during her opening statement, Castellanoz uses profane language and street slang when describing Palei's killing.

"I wasn't bluffing, fool," he said. "I don't, I don't play that ... dog."

He called himself a "psycho" who has two different personalities, and told his friend he "trips ... especially when I have my pistol."

And the end of the recording played in court Monday, the friend questioned how Castellanoz can sleep at night.

"I sleep good," Castellanoz responded.

Testimony in Castellanoz's trial is scheduled to resume this morning in West Valley Superior Court.

Haynal declined to give an opening statement Monday, but will have an opportunity to address the jury at the start of the defense's case.

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