SAN JOSE -- In a rare victory for a murder suspect, a jury Wednesday acquitted a young woman of a gang-related killing, sparing her from a possible life sentence.

The case was a challenge for the prosecution because Rebecca Villanueva didn't actually fire the bullet that killed 17-year-old Daniel Capetillo on Nov. 30, 2012, outside his Pacific Avenue house.

But veteran prosecutor David Pandori contended that Villanueva was guilty of first-degree murder anyway on the grounds that she aided and abetted the shooters, who fired from inside a stopped car.

Villanueva, then 23, had called Capetillo to arrange a drug transaction, effectively luring him out of his house, Pandori said. After the shooting, she ran back to the car and tried to get back in, he said.

However, Villanueva testified during the Santa Clara County Superior Court trial that she froze in shock when she heard the gunfire. Then she ran back to the car and started fighting with the driver, managing to yank her purse out of the vehicle before he drove away. Her lawyer, Jessica Delgado, could not be reached for comment. Pandori credited Delgado for doing a "very good job" on behalf of her client. Villanueva also called 911 and administered aid to the victim.

"It's a difficult case but we hoped that 12 members of the community would agree that someone who runs back to the car is part of a plan," Pandori said.


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But he said some jurors told him they thought that just because she ran back to the car didn't mean she knew about the shooting beforehand. If she was a gang member herself, as the prosecution contended, then it would have been natural for her to rejoin her fellow gangsters anyway, even if she didn't know about their deadly plan, they told him. The verdict in the three-week trial came after the jury deliberated for 1 1/2 days.

"The thing that made this difficult is there were no witnesses except the victim and the defendant herself," he said.

Villanueva has been in jail since the shooting. No one else has been arrested, and police are still seeking the identities of the other occupants of the car after Villanueva told them she didn't know who they were.

Pandori noted that San Jose police listed Villanueva as a gang member at the time of the shooting. She also was on probation at the time for destroying evidence for the benefit of a gang.

Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.