POMONA - After deliberating for less than three hours, jurors on Tuesday found a former Marine not guilty of murder and 19 other counts associated with a deadly shootout with gang members last year.
After seven days of trial, jurors found Carlos Chavira of La Puente not guilty of murder in the Feb. 10, 2009, shooting death of Walter Zomoza.
Chavira, a 24-year-old former Marine and Iraq War veteran, also was acquitted of two counts of attempted murder.
About two dozen of Chavira's relatives gasped and sobbed for joy as the verdict was read in Pomona Superior Court.
"I thank God justice has been served. Not because he's my son, but because he is innocent," said Chavira's mother, Sandra Chavira.
Chavira sustained four bullet wounds when two of the gang members opened fire on him as he waited to refuel his truck at the Chevron gas station on La Puente Road and Nogales Street near Nogales High School.
Chavira claimed he shot Zomoza in self-defense.
Prosecutor Ian Phan alleged Chavira instigated the shootout. His case relied heavily on the testimony of an off-duty sheriff's deputy, Toni Veridiano, who claimed to have witnessed the shooting as she drove by.
After the verdict, jurors said they had doubts about Veridiano's account and believed Chavira's version of events.
Veridiano's testimony in court at times conflicted with her original statements to investigators.
Jurors also said they had problems
believing the testimony of Eliezer Reyes.
Reyes, a member of the East Side Dukes street gang, was called as a prosecution witness and testified that Chavira pulled a gun on him and two friends.
He said he never shot at Chavira although investigators found spent shell casings at the gas station matching a gun Reyes admitted to carrying.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has not charged Reyes with a crime in connection with the shooting.
Jurors said they believed the testimony of defense witness Cinthia Cisneros, who was standing at the gas station waiting to catch a bus.
Cisneros testified she was about 10 feet away when the gang members approached Chavira's truck and opened fire.
Cisneros was never interviewed by a sheriff's homicide investigator after she gave an initial statement to patrol deputies who responded to the scene.
Family members said homicide investigators wanted to convict Chavira and ignored Cisneros.
Detectives "omitted Cisneros from the get go. They knew they didn't have a case," said Chavira's aunt Maricela Seguro.
Chavira's defense attorney, Eber Bayona, said Superior Court Judge Tia Fisher did not allow him to present the case like he wanted.
"This was the most difficult case I've ever tried," he said.
Phan said he still believes Chavira committed murder.
"The evidence shows that he's guilty," Phan said. "I presented the evidence and they decided. I'm not going to second guess what they did."
Before the trial started, Chavira pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed weapon. Although the gun was legally registered to Chavira, he did not have a permit to carry it concealed.
Fisher released Chavira for time served. He has been behind bars in lieu of $2 million bail since Oct. 7.