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Gang affiliation cited as key to murder motive

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Nearing the conclusion of a murder trial, attorneys argued about Freddie Gonzales Guzman's gang membership.

The Clayton County prosecutor pushed the idea that Guzman was the leader, and maybe even the founder, of the Brown Side Locos. He alleged that the gang affiliation motivated Guzman to chase down 22-year-old Juan Carlos Rangle Gayoso and shoot him with a 9 mm handgun for being disrespectful.

"Nobody was going to talk down to [Guzman]," said Michael Thurston, assistant district attorney. "Nobody was going to 'dis' him in front of his friends."

Cerille B. Nassau, defending 20-year-old Guzman, countered that the prosecution couldn't prove the man was a gang leader and couldn't prove the murder was gang-related, but depended on the man's alleged Brown Side Loco affiliation, anyway.

"That's their whole theory," Nassau said. "It's a symbiotic relationship. They cannot make this case with accusing Mr. Guzman of being a gang leader. It's a fundamental part of their argument."

According to Clayton County Police and the District Attorney's Office, Guzman and Gayoso argued outside a Tara Boulevard gas station three days before Christmas in 2006. The argument was captured on surveillance tapes, though the details remain vague. Detectives said it was probably drug related, and ended with Gayoso insulting Guzman and driving off in his black Ford Explorer.

Gayoso was followed by five men identified as members of the Brown Side Loco gang, one who can be seen in security photos with a gang tattoo on his forehead.

Gayoso was found dead, slumped over the steering wheel of his Ford. It had crashed into a tree between two trailers in Hunters Ridge Mobile Home Park on Tara Boulevard. On Dec. 22, at about 11 p.m., he was shot once in the right shoulder by someone on the passenger side of a passing car, witnesses told police.

Detectives tracked down two alleged gang members, one with a tattooed forehead and one a 16-year-old who was hiding a gun under leaves in his back yard, who told them Guzman had fired the fatal shot and fled to Mexico.

According to the teen, Guzman said to tell the police whatever he wanted to tell them.

"They'll never catch me," he reportedly said. "I'm going to Mexico."

Guzman was arrested in Plano, Texas, at an alleged gang house, after police traced phone calls to his mother.

When told his friends had sold him out, Guzman allegedly confessed to police, telling them he saw Gayoso make a U-turn and thought that was an aggressive move. He reportedly said he'd been shot at before by cars making U-turns, and he fired at the driver as the two cars passed on the street.

On Wednesday, Guzman sat in court wearing a black suit and listening to a woman translate the trial proceedings into Spanish, into his left ear.

Thurston, prosecuting his first murder trial since passing the bar exam, announced the state would rest its case at about 3:45 p.m.

Nassau responded with two motions, both based on claims the state hadn't proved Guzman's gang status and on the argument the defendant's gang status was crucial to the case against him.

He said the prosecution only had one former co-defendant's testimony as evidence, and made a motion for mistrial and a motion for a directed verdict acquitting Guzman.

Thurston admitted the man's gang affiliation was the key to proving allegations of motive and intent, in the murder, but said the evidence included multiple witnesses' statements, police testimony, photographs and a slew of circumstances. The jury, Thurston said, should be trusted to weigh it all and reach a verdict.

Clayton County Superior Court Judge Geronda V. Carter dismissed the motions.

Nassau told the judge that concluded his defense, and he would rest without putting Guzman up to testify on the witness stand.

The jury is scheduled to hear closing arguments on Thursday morning.