By Jose Luis Jiménez
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
October 18, 2005
VISTA – Standing in the ATM line outside the Navy Federal Credit Union in Oceanside, Matthew McClure figured the loud noises from the parking lot were firecrackers or a car backfiring.
He ducked behind a Jeep that June 13, 2003, afternoon and then ran to the side of the building. The shooting ended and he heard tires squeal. He returned to the parking lot to find a police officer on the ground and his patrol car gone.
McClure was one of six witnesses who testified yesterday during the first day of the trial of Adrian Camacho, a former gang member and illegal immigrant charged with murder in the death of rookie Oceanside police Officer Tony Zeppetella, 27, during a traffic stop in the credit union parking lot.
If the jury convicts Camacho of first-degree murder, the trial will enter a second phase, during which jurors would consider whether Camacho, 30, should be executed.
During his 40-minute opening statement, prosecutor David Rubin described Camacho as a street-level drug dealer with narcotics in his car when Zeppetella stopped him. Determined to stay out of prison, Camacho killed the officer to escape, Rubin said.
Deputy Public Defender William Stone said there was no doubt his client killed Zeppetella, but it was not first-degree murder. Camacho had a "psychotic break" when he shot the officer, fueled by a mix of heroin, methamphetamine and the prescription drug Paxil, taken earlier that day, the defense attorney said during his 30-minute opening statement.
"This is not a whodunit," said Stone, who is being assisted in the trial by Deputy Public Defender Kathleen Cannon. "The issue in this case is your understanding of Mr. Camacho's mental state."
In the parking lot, 34 shots were fired from Camacho's stolen gun and Zeppetella's service weapon. The officer was struck 13 times, Rubin said.
McClure and three other witnesses testified they heard three to five shots, a pause and then a barrage. During that pause, one of the witnesses testified he saw Camacho hit Zeppetella at least twice with a gun as he lay mortally wounded.
Zeppetella was able to fire 14 shots, striking Camacho in the leg, Rubin said. As Zeppetella tried to crawl away, Camacho shot the officer several times in the back, the prosecutor said.
The entire incident lasted just less than two minutes.
Camacho then drove the patrol car to his mother-in-law's Oceanside neighborhood to hide, Rubin said.
After breaking into her home, he slit his wrists and scrawled a suicide note on the bathroom tile in his blood, said Stone, who showed the jury a picture of the writing. The words "I'm sorry," "I (heart) my wife and kids," and "Help me Ordas," can be seen, with the last phrase a message to Camacho's psychiatrist, Stone said.
About four hours later, he surrendered to a SWAT team that surrounded the home.
After his arrest, Camacho wrote letters threatening to kill his jailers, which Rubin showed the jury.
"It's gonna be a big surprise when I send one of 'em home in a (expletive) body bag," Camacho wrote in a letter.
Rubin said the notes show Camacho's hatred toward law enforcement and explain his motives for the slaying.
"(Zeppetella) was shot 13 times in a cool, deliberate act of murder," Rubin told jurors. "There were never any voices raised. It just started."
Stone said the letters represented his client's frustration about his treatment in jail.
"This was not premeditated," Stone said. "This was craziness."
The trial continues today and is scheduled to last through mid-December.Jose Jimenez: (760) 737-7578; email@example.com
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