Seated between his two lawyers in a Downtown Los Angeles courtroom on Tuesday for the first day of a trial that could result in the death penalty against him, William Vasquez, wearing a blue dress shirt with a tie hanging awkwardly past his waistline, looked nothing like the man in the mug shot that prosecutors repeatedly projected on a screen for the jury.
In the picture, taken five years ago on the day of his arrest, Vasquez was shown shirtless, the word "Eighteen" tattooed across his chest — a testament, prosecutors said, to his loyalty to the 18th Street gang, one of Los Angeles' most notorious.
Vasquez is charged with five murders and three other shootings between 2002 and 2005, including the killing of two Santa Monica men during a party at the Moose Lodge on Ocean Park Boulevard in March of 2005.
The two men who were killed in that incident — Jonathan Hernandez, 19, and Hector Bonilla, 25 — were allegedly Santa Monica gang members, as was a third alleged Vasquez victim, Jesse Becerra, who was shot 20 times outside of house party near 21st Street and La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles, apparently for crossing into the 18th Street gang's territory, prosecutors said.
On Tuesday, Deputy District Attorney Sarika Kim described Vasquez as a killer who sought to win respect and spread fear through the brutality of his crimes. In the Moose Lodge murders, the two victims were shot a total of 25 times, including several times in the back as they lay dying on the floor, she said. Becerra was shot nine times in the head from as close a range as two feet.
"That fear will be pervasive in this trial," Kim told the jury, "and it will manifest itself in different ways."
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