ESCONDIDO — An Escondido man was convicted Feb. 11 of the murder of a 26-year-old man who prosecutors said was tired of being harassed by local gang members.
A jury panel of eight women and four men found Charles Lara Rodriguez, 27, guilty of the first-degree murder of Carlos “Eddie” Rios outside Lena Liquor on East Washington Avenue in Escondido nearly two years ago. The jury also found true two special allegations: the slaying was done for the benefit of criminal street gang and a personal weapon was used.
Prosecutors argued throughout the trial that Rodriguez, who wasn’t a documented gang member, “hit up” the victim and his cousin on the evening of March 22, 2007, about whether they were affiliated with a gang. Rios and his cousin told Rodriguez they didn’t belong to any gang, according to court documents. Another man Rodriguez was hanging out with at the time, Adolfo Uriostegui, a documented gang member, tried to diffuse the situation by telling the defendant he was “cool” with Rios, court records state.
As Rodriguez continued to look at Rios in an aggressive manner, the victim asked him, “Why do you keep looking at me all hard? Do you want to handle this like a man?” according to court documents. That’s when Rodriguez squared up to Rios and swiftly pulled out a four-inch folding knife and fatally stabbed Rios.
Deputy District Attorney Terri Perez said in an interview following the verdict that despite Rios and his cousin’s lack of gang affiliation they were still targets because they were Hispanic in a Hispanic gang’s territory. She said she believed Rios had been targeted by gangs in the past, and decided to confront the problem.
Rodriguez faces 25 years to life when he’s sentenced April 17.
A handful of Rios’ family and friends, including his cousin, were present when the verdict was reached. Outside the courtroom, some smiled, others cried as they hugged and talked about Rios.
“This is our justice system at work,” a Rios’ supporter, who’d asked to remain unidentified, said.
Before the verdict was read, it came to the attention of the court that one of the jurors violated a court order by speaking to a pastor about the superficial details of the trial. However, Judge Joan Weber ruled that while there was misconduct by the juror it didn’t effect the panels deliberation; therefore, the verdict rendered would stand.
Because of the juror’s misconduct, Rodriguez can file a motion to have a new trial.