Two years ago, Kristina Harris Perkins, a 19-year-old woman enrolled in the San Jose Job Corps Center with big plans for the future, lay dead on a light-rail station platform. She had been stabbed in the heart.
Now, after a marathon 26-day preliminary hearing spread out over three months, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Rise Pichon has ruled there is enough evidence to try five young adults -- all from the same San Jose family -- on charges of murder and attempted murder stemming from a deadly brawl captured by security cameras at the Alum Rock station.
Two other Job Corps students also were stabbed during the Aug. 15, 2009, fight.
Prosecutors allege it was an act of violence instigated by members of a criminal street gang.
But an attorney for the man accused of fatally stabbing Harris Perkins said her client acted in defense of his sister and pregnant girlfriend who were outnumbered and being attacked by a group of female Job Corps students.
Pichon on Aug. 24 ruled Isabel Savaii, 25; Eddie Manuel Rivera, 24; David Pilipina, Gregory Alan Lopez and Alyssa Lujan, all 21, should be held on murder and attempted murder charges. The five defendants are scheduled to appear in court Tuesday, when a trial date is expected to be scheduled.
Each family member is facing a sentence of life in prison if convicted.
"The tragic thing is any of the major actors could have just walked away and none of this would have happened," said prosecutor Chuck Gillingham, adding that Harris Perkins "was just a bystander."
Details surrounding the case had been sealed until the preliminary hearing, during which prosecutors for the first time publicly played a video that shows much of what happened on the train, including some views of an altercation seconds after the groups got off the train. It shows Harris Perkins being stabbed and collapsing on the platform.
Deputy Public Defender Sylvia Perez-MacDonald said Pilipina and his family members are innocent.
"They were out in a family outing" and not looking for trouble, Perez-MacDonald said. "His sister and pregnant girlfriend were attacked by a swarm of Job Corps females, despite his sister's effort to surrender."
Pilipina, Lopez and Rivera were all arrested by the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office within two weeks of the stabbing. Lujan and Savaii were arrested six months later. Asked why there was a lengthy delay in arresting the women, Gillingham said only that "there was further investigation."
The two sides offer different versions of what happened during and after the light-rail train ride, which began for both groups at the Great Mall in Milpitas and ended at the Alum Rock station on Capitol Avenue.
Four of the defendants went to the Great Mall that night with four young relatives to watch the movie "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra." The family got onto the same train as the Job Corps students, whose "taunting, provocative and threatening" conduct was depicted by the train's audio/video recordings, Perez-MacDonald said.
"We believe the Job Corps members were looking for a fight that day," Perez-MacDonald said. "They had aggressive confrontations earlier that evening with other people unrelated to our client and his family."
But Gillingham said Pilipina, while on the train, issued a gang challenge to a male Job Corps student who was wearing a red baseball hat. (Pilipina is allegedly a member of the Crips, which associates with the color blue.) Eventually, the group of alleged gang members felt disrespected and began preparing for a fight, he said. At some point, a family member called Rivera, who rode his bike to the station armed with a knife, Gillingham said.
Gillingham said none of the Job Corps students have gang ties and alleges Pilipina stabbed Harris Perkins more than once while she was trying to break up a fight between girls from both groups.
"A girl died for nothing," Gillingham said. "A girl with a lot of prospects dies because someone is wearing red."
The video shows Pilipina fatally stabbing Harris Perkins in the chest, Gillingham said. The video also captured Rivera and Pilipina stabbing the other two Job Corps students, including one in the back while on the ground, the prosecutor said.
Cameras from inside the trains show Pilipina standing in the doorway, waiting to exit, and taking a knife out from a glove he was wearing, according to Gillingham.
One of the Job Corps students armed himself with a pair of scissors before getting off the train, Perez-MacDonald said.
Contact Mark Gomez at 408-920-5869.
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