Armando Ochoa had racked up 10 speeding tickets, four drunken driving convictions and one hit-and-run accident by the time he plowed into three elderly San Jose pedestrians, killing two of them and seriously injuring a third, a prosecutor contended Monday during Ochoa's murder trial.
"He sent them flying helplessly through the air," prosecutor Daniel H. Fehderau said in a powerful opening statement about the Sept. 14, 2008, tragedy at San Jose's Hillview Park.
The unemployed painter also had a blood-alcohol level that was more than three times the legal limit, the prosecutor said, enumerating the reasons why Ochoa is charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder rather than vehicular manslaughter. Before the collision, Ochoa had been up all night drinking, then argued with his family so vociferously a neighbor called the police. Ochoa then had a beer with breakfast, ignored a warning by a restaurant manager that he was too drunk to drive, erupted into road rage with a bewildered motorist, argued with a group of soccer players and threatened to kill someone right before he actually did, the prosecutor said.
But Ochoa's lawyer solemnly argued in Judge Diane Northway's Santa Clara County Superior Court that Ochoa is really a victim himself -- not of a bad childhood or a faulty car -- but of something even more pernicious.
"He has an arachnoid cyst on his brain," defense attorney Ingo Brauer said.
"This case is about an accident, not a murder," Brauer contended. "He wasn't in his right state of mind."
As an example, Brauer noted that Ochoa made derogatory remarks about Mexicans to some of the witnesses, but is himself a Mexican immigrant.
Ochoa, 49, is facing a maximum sentence of about 45 years to life and has been locked up in County Jail without bail for more than four years since his arrest. As a result of his actions, Aproniano Siruno, 71, was immediately killed; Rodolfo Escurial, 67, died three weeks later. Esteban Casiano, 73, suffered cuts and broken ribs.
The road-rage incident began around 8:30 a.m. when a man stopped at a red light on his way to Hillview Park to play soccer with his friends, according to police reports. Ochoa pulled up next to him and motioned "What's up?" to him. The witness rolled up his window.
The man turned left but Ochoa reportedly drove in front of him and began swerving from lane to lane to prevent him from passing. Then the Suburban's driver slammed on his brakes, almost causing an accident. The Suburban at one point pulled off King Road and seemed to wait for the witness to catch up before dangerously swerving and braking.
After another near-crash with Ochoa, the driver parked on a side street to hide. When the driver later approached the park on foot, he said, Ochoa was yelling at some of his soccer buddies and then said "Wait here ... you'll pay for this," one witness told police. They thought he was going to get a knife or a gun.
Instead, he used his car as a weapon, Fehderau said, driving from the opposite side of the street up onto the sidewalk and intentionally smashing into the three victims.
Fehderau argued that Ochoa was conscious of his guilt and tried to cover his tracks. After leaving the scene, he aimed for home, but at least one of his wheels was too damaged. Leaving his car at Tamien light-rail station, he took a cab and tried to persuade the driver not to input his address in the taxi's GPS system, possibly to avoid leaving a trail. When he saw police had already arrived at his house, he urged the cabbie to drive by, but police stopped the taxi.
Fehderau said Ochoa acted with both express and implied malice aforethought, but the prosecutor didn't argue in his opening statement that the murders were premeditated. According to Fehderau's argument, Ochoa acted with express malice because he intended to kill when he drove up on the sidewalk, and with implied malice because he knew from past experience and from warnings that day just how dangerous it was to drive drunk.
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.