When the pandemic struck and the state and county announced the Shelter in Place order, jury trials came to a halt in Alameda County. At that time, a co-defendant murder trial (People v Alejandro Garcia & James Scott) was nearing completion, with only closing arguments yet to be given. After a hiatus of 103 days the trial resumed in a courtroom that looked and felt vastly altered. The court, the attorneys and the jurors were able to get back to work.
After hearing closing arguments and deliberating, the jury found defendant Scott guilty of first degree murder as the actual killer, the special circumstance of murder in the course of kidnapping, robbery, kidnapping and felon in possession of a firearm. Garcia was found guilty of first degree murder as a major participant in kidnapping acting with reckless disregard for human life and kidnapping.
In order to maintain safety while allowing the trial to proceed, the court made major adjustments to the physical space in the courtroom. Jurors wore masks at all times and were seated at least six feet apart throughout the courtroom. The court constructed a three-sided six-foot-high plexiglass barrier for the lawyers to stand behind. A lapel microphone was used to project through the courtroom speakers and an extra courtroom TV enabled socially distanced jurors to see the screen. Each defense attorney sat six feet away from his client, while the prosecutor sat alone at a small table. The judge’s computer had the BlueJeans application turned on to livestream audio of the proceedings while the victim’s family listened in a large conference room in the DA’s Office.
On September 30, 2015, six young men robbed and kidnapped Reynaldo Vasquez at gunpoint, took him to an abandoned auto shop where they repeatedly pistol-whipped him, forced him into the trunk of a car, and drove to the Oakland hills where they executed him. Once in a trial court, three of the six pled guilty to second degree murder, with the understanding that upon truthful testimony, they would be allowed to withdraw their plea and enter a new plea to voluntary manslaughter. One was a juvenile. The two remaining defendants-Alejandro Garcia and James Scott were convicted by a jury.
Shortly after midnight on September 30, 2015, Reynaldo Vasquez left his house and walked to a gas station. Some of the defendants saw him leave, alerted others, and positioned themselves so they could surround him and catch him off guard. Defendant James Scott was identified by all co-defendants and uninvolved witnesses as the person who had the gun – during the initial robbery/kidnap, during the pistol-whipping in the shop, and as the shooter in the hills. Multiple witnesses testified that Rey repeatedly begged the defendants to let him go because he had a young daughter. After being tied up and pistol whipped inside the shop, he was forced into the trunk of a car that used to belong to him. Defendant Alejandro Garcia drove the car to the hills, and Defendant Scott and the juvenile rode in this same car. Once in the hills, Defendant Scott walked Rey about 10-15 feet at gunpoint and shot him three times in the head. Rey’s body was found by a cyclist the next morning. A lengthy investigation by OPD ensued. All defendants except Scott gave statements admitting portions of their culpability.
The defendants will be sentenced on October 23, 2020.
This case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Stacie Pettigrew with the assistance of Inspector Joe McNiff and Victim-Witness Advocate Lily Bueno.