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Antioch Man’s Death Recounted in Trial Opening Statements

May 29, 2008

By Malaika Fraley, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.

May 29–MARTINEZ — The second trial for two East County gang members charged with killing a 20-year-old Antioch man during an attempted car jacking got under way with opening statements from attorneys this morning.

Randy Salazar, 25, and Eric Anderson, 26, were looking to “rip or jack” someone before daybreak on Sept. 21, 2004, when they came across Matthew Stephens getting ready to commute to work, Deputy District Attorney Mary Knox said.

Salazar was in the driver’s seat of a stolen white Pontiac when Anderson got out to steal Stephens’ car at gunpoint. When Stephens fought back, Anderson wrapped a blanket belonging to Stephens around Stephens’ head, pulled him down to waist level and shot him in the face.

“There’s no way Eric Anderson could allow Matthew Stephens to overpower him with a witness, a fellow Norteno, watching,” Knox said.

Gang respect — respect earned by committing crime and violence — is what motivated Stephens’ murder, Knox said.

Defense attorneys said the prosecution does not have the evidence to prove Salazar and Anderson were responsible for Stephens’ death.

No physical evidence links the men to the crime scene or to the Pontiac that was seen in the neighborhood and found abandoned later that morning, said Christopher Bowen, who is representing Salazar through the Alternate Defender’s Office.

Bowen and Anderson’s private attorney, William Gagen, questioned the credibility of

witnesses, including a bus driver expected to take the stand to describe walking by two suspicious men in a Pontiac before the car turned on Stephens’ street. The witness could only identify Salazar until after he saw a newspaper article about their pending arrests with their mug shots.

The trial continues in Judge Theresa Canepa’s courtroom. The first trial for the defendants ended with a hung jury in November.

Reach Malaika Fraley at mfraley@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.

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