SANTA ANA — An Orange County prosecutor on Wednesday described an alleged Costa Mesa gang member accused of attempted murder as a "puppeteer" who convinced younger teens to help him in a shooting that left a 15-year-old girl wounded in the Shalimar area.
Prosecutors say Salvador Hilario Burciaga, 23, ran up to a crowd on Shalimar Drive on July 28, 2008. Wearing a blue bandanna across his face, he allegedly yelled a common gang challenge, "Where are you from?"
Burciaga stands accused of then using a sawed-off shotgun to shoot a girl in the chest before anyone could respond. The girl was injured but survived.
While running back to a waiting car, Burciaga dropped a hat that said "World's Greatest Grandpa," which carried Burciaga's DNA, Deputy District Attorney James Page alleged.
"There is no way in this green earth he could put on the hat, get in the car and jog with the hat without leaving DNA," Page said. "If he is not the shooter, how is it he had the most DNA on the hat?"
A minuscule drop of spittle could have pointed the DNA to Burciaga, said defense attorney Allan H. Stokke.
Stokke called the evidence-collection process a "catastrophe," asserting the forensic team swabbed the visor and interior of the ball cap with the same instrument.
During closing statements, Page showed jurors surveillance clips from a Kmart that captured Burciaga's movements about one hour before the shooting. Burciaga, who was then 19, and three boys, could be seen shopping for what the prosecutor termed "disguises."
In the video, Burciaga could be seen at many points leading the boys, who were "practically just out of diapers," Page said.
Any of the other boys in the gang could have been the shooter, Stokke told jurors, as many witnesses described the assailant as slim and short, a description that fits other members.
Page contended witnesses fixated on the gun in Burciaga's hand more so than on his physique.
In the surveillance video, Burciaga appeared noticeably different than he did in court. It showed him with a shaved head and wearing a baggy T-shirt and pants. An Old English-style tattoo with the initials "LT," a reference to Costa Mesa's Varrio Little Town gang, could also be seen in images shown to jurors.
On Wednesday, Burciaga wore a sweater vest, blue button-down shirt and thick-rimmed glasses. Close-cropped hair covered the tattoo.
He rarely glanced at the jury or prosecutor, staring straight ahead.
Page said Burciaga had a three-dot tattoo on his hand, a gang symbol for "mi vida loca."
Burciaga's mother watched the proceedings in the 11th-floor courtroom. She was one of a few people in the gallery.
Burciaga is charged with one felony count of attempted murder, one felony count of street terrorism, one felony count of conspiring to commit a crime and sentencing enhancements for being in a street gang, felony use of a firearm and inflicting great bodily harm. He pleaded not guilty to all charges and denied all sentencing enhancements.
If convicted, he faces 15 years to life in prison.
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