Diaz Evans guilty on eight of nine counts
WILLMAR -- Leroy Diaz Evans was found not guilty Monday of the most serious charge against him stemming from a shooting last fall but convicted of all other charges.
The 26-year-old Willmar man was found not guilty of first-degree attempted murder of a peace officer for firing multiple shots at a Willmar police officer Sept. 15.
Around 8:30 p.m. Monday evening, a Kandiyohi County jury returned that verdict, along with guilty verdicts on a charge of use of deadly force against a peace officer and seven burglary and aggravated robbery charges, according to County Attorney Jenna Fischer.
The case had been handed over to the eight-woman, four-man jury around 5 p.m. Monday. The jury members will return to court this morning to consider whether aggravating factors are present that could result in Diaz Evans being sentenced to more prison time for his crimes.
The first-degree attempted murder of a peace officer charge -- of which he was acquitted -- is punishable by up to life in prison.
The use of deadly force charge -- the most serious charge of which he was convicted -- is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and/or a $30,000 fine. Fischer said she was disappointed with the lone not guilty verdict.
"I'm disappointed it was not guilty on the attempted murder charge," she said. "Anytime someone points and shoots a gun at a person, they intend to kill them."
The seven first-degree burglary and aggravated robbery charges were for two home invasions preceding the shooting incident in the Subway restaurant parking lot along First Street. One of the bullets hit the police squad car, and several bullets struck a nearby home.
The trial before District Judge Kathryn N. Smith began March 7 in Kandiyohi County District Court. Diaz Evans took the stand on Friday and admitted he shot the gun at the officer.
Smith ruled earlier Monday that Diaz Evans would be allowed to use an affirmative defense of duress on the three burglary and attempted aggravated robbery charges for the first home invasion. He could have been found not guilty of those charges if the jury found that he was in fear that he would be immediately killed by his co-defendant if he did not follow through with the crime and if it was not possible for him to withdraw to safety.
Brad Kluver, Diaz Evans' attorney, argued that Jesus Trevino, the co-defendant, had threatened his client, including threats to kill his family, during the incident. Trevino was part of a powerful Texas drug cartel and intent on collecting a drug debt, he said.
"You can't run from these folks," Kluver told the jury.
Kluver categorized Trevino as a villain who got a sweet deal. The 33-year-old Willmar man pleaded guilty to a first-degree burglary charge, with the remaining charges dismissed -- including first-degree attempted murder of a peace officer. He will be sentenced March 28.
During his testimony Wednesday, Trevino said he entered a home along the 800 block of Second Street Southeast with the intent to rob a man of money and that he hit the man in the head with a revolver during that burglary.
Other than a few definitive answers about his plea, Trevino spent much of his time on the stand Wednesday telling attorneys that he could not recall what he told police detectives after he was arrested and that he was in fear of his life for testifying against Diaz Evans, whom he would not name as a gang member.
Assistant County Attorney Sean Baker contended that the two men were part of a joint criminal venture to get money from another man, that Diaz Evans had one semi-automatic handgun during the first invasion and two semi-auto handguns during the second invasion. Meanwhile, Trevino had a five-shot revolver.
"He (Diaz Evans) is part of this operation. He wants to get the two thousand dollars," Baker said. "It was his intent all along to participate."
Baker recounted that witnesses testified that Diaz Evans had a .45-caliber gun, the same caliber shell casings found in the vehicle from where the shots were fired, and the same caliber of spent bullets found in the house and near the squad car.
"The defendant has admitted he fired the shots," Baker said. A bullet struck the car's headlight and then stopped when it hit a shock absorber.
"The ammo went where it was intended to go," into the driver's side of the car to strike the officer, Baker said.
Baker also argued that Diaz Evans was an active participant in the home invasion, bringing his own gun, pointing the gun at a woman and ordering three men not to call the police as he was leaving the apartment.