Opening statements are heard in drive-by trial

WILLMAR -- In the trial of Jose Armando Padilla, jurors will decide whether or not he shot a 30-06 rifle during a drive-by shooting that injured one woman in the early hours of July 22.

WILLMAR -- In the trial of Jose Armando Padilla, jurors will decide whether or not he shot a 30-06 rifle during a drive-by shooting that injured one woman in the early hours of July 22.

There's not much of a question whether Padilla was there. He was one of four arrested minutes after the drive-by.

Monday, in the opening statements of the Kandiyohi County District Court trial of Padilla, 25, of Granite Falls, the prosecution and defense had different ideas about his involvement. Padilla faces one count of drive-by shooting murder in the second-degree-attempted, one count of first-degree assault-liability for the crimes of another, and three counts of dangerous weapons- drive-by shooting.

Just before 12:45 a.m. July 22, Willmar Police were called to lot D-2 in the Regency Estates East trailer park after receiving a report of shots fired.

While officers were en route, dispatchers received another 911 call saying shots had just been fired at a home at 1410 Gorton Ave. N.W. and identifying the vehicle involved as a blue minivan. Minutes later, officers pulled over the minivan and arrested Padilla, Jose Antonio Mercado, 21, Samuel Espinoza Hernandez, 20, and Veronica Yanez Saldana, 25, all of Willmar. Inside the van, officers found a 30-06 Winchester rifle, a 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun, boxes of ammunition and several empty bullet casings.


Assistant Kandiyohi County Attorney Connie Crowell, in her opening statement to the jury, said Padilla had gotten into an argument with Ruben Ybarra at a social gathering earlier in the summer. At that party, Padilla threatened to kill Ybarra and Ybarra's family.

Crowell said Ybarra later tried to make peace with Padilla. Scared, Ybarra and his family moved out of their trailer at the D-2 lot of Regency Estates West and began staying with relatives at 1410 Gorton Ave. N.W., Crowell said.

Shortly after the move, the July 22 shootings took place.

Ybarra's Regency Estates neighbors called his family to warn them that shots had been fired. As Ybarra's family placed a 911 call about the trailer park shooting, "all hell broke loose," Crowell said. During the 911 call -- which will be played as evidence in the trial -- Crowell said you can hear the bullets hit the Gorton Avenue house and the screams of the family inside.

A woman inside the home was hit in the hand and the left breast with a fragment of a bullet from a 30-06 rifle. Another bullet narrowly missed a 5-month-old baby.

"You'll hear from a doctor that a fraction of an inch (in a different direction,) and she wouldn't be alive," Crowell told the jury.

Brad Kluver, Padilla's attorney, said the shooting was "tragic," but "It was not Mr. Padilla that shot the firearm that caused the bullet or its fragments to hit her."

Kluver also pointed out that a test to find gun residue on Padilla's hands showed negative results. Similar tests on the other three suspects were inconclusive.


He also said that neighbors at Regency Estates West saw a different vehicle at the scene of the drive-by shooting at the trailer.

Kluver also pointed out that the driver, Saldana, made a plea agreement for a lesser sentence in exchange for testifying against Padilla. He said the other two suspects, Hernandez and Mercado, haven't had trials yet and likely won't admit to firing the weapons.

Kluver asked the jury reserve judgment until they've heard all the evidence. He ended his statement by saying the evidence will lead to a "not guilty verdict."

Monday's first witnesses included police who responded to the scene and a Granite Falls business owner whose 30-06 rifle was stolen and was used in the drive-by.

The trial is scheduled to last through Thursday.

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