OCEANSIDE — The case of a former Oceanside High School football player accused of gunning down a teenage taco shop employee is now in the hands of the jury.
On Oct. 27, after a full day of closing arguments, which had started the previous afternoon, jurors began their deliberations in the trial of 21-year-old Suitonu Tuua.
Tuua is charged with a single count of attempted murder. Enhancements of gang, weapons and great bodily injury allegations are also attached to the charge.
In the early morning hours of Jan. 31, Tuua knocked on the drive-through window of Deiberto’s in the 3300 block of Mission Avenue and when Alejandro Zunniga opened the window he shot the then-19-year-old point blank in the face, Deputy District Attorney David Williams told jurors in his closing statement. He then proceeded to unload his six-round .357 revolver at Zunniga as he fled through the store, the prosecutor said.
Williams told the panel Zunniga was lucky to be alive. He said Zunniga suffered gunshot wounds to his face, torso and buttocks during the premeditated attack.
Zunniga was adamant Tuua was the shooter, the prosecutor said. In addition to identifying him in court, Zunniga said the two had attended Oceanside High School together; he had pointed out Tuua’s photo in the yearbook for police, Williams said.
According to Zunniga, prior to the shooting Tuua had walked up to the drive-through window and asked to use a lighter for his cigarette, Williams told the jury. Tuua then walked back to a red SUV, which contained two other male occupants, and the three men ordered food through the drive through, the prosecutor said. Thirty minutes later, Zunniga testified Tuua walked back to the drive through, now wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, and ordered a burrito, Williams said. Moments later, Tuua returned and this time opened fire on Zunniga, the prosecutor said.
Zunniga testified he had “no doubt” it was Tuua, who was a regular at the taco shop, Williams told jurors.
Tuua was arrested Feb. 11 at his Fireside Street home, which is less than a mile away from the taco shop. Bullets matching the same caliber firearm used in the shooting were found at the residence, according to court testimony.
Detective Samoa Samoa, of the Oceanside Police Department, testified Tuua was a documented gang member, and the shooting was retaliatory hit because Tuua believed Zunniga had ties to a rival street gang that shot him 10 months earlier.
Zunniga is not affiliated with any street gang; however, Williams said he may have been accidentally mistaken as a member because he had been seen hanging out with a person from the rival gang.
Despite Williams’ belief that due to the proximity of the shooting Tuua’s face will be seared into Zunniga’s mind forever, defense attorney Ronald Le Mieux told jurors he believes Zunniga has misidentified his client.
Le Mieux said Tuua was with the two males in the SUV, but that he wasn’t the man who returned and opened fire on Zunniga. He said Zunniga and another witness identified the shooter as wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and weighing approximately 75 to 125 pounds less than Tuua at the time of the incident.
Further, Le Mieux said his client had no motive to shoot Zunniga. Le Mieux said Tuua had eaten at the taco shop more than two dozen times and had never had an argument with Zunniga or threatened him.
If convicted, Tuua faces up to life in prison, according to court documents. He currently remains out of custody on bail.