2015 slaying followed by two police killings ends with plea
SAN JOSE — In August 2015, Christopher Maxwell Wrenn was lying in the hallway of a nondescript office building off Lundy Avenue, shot and mortally wounded.
Within four days, two of the three men suspected in Wrenn’s killing were dead, each after a frenzied confrontation with San Jose police. One of the shootings garnered particular notoriety after the suspect, Richard “Harpo” Jacquez, was initially described by police as having reached into his waistband, presumably for a gun, a claim officials later admitted wasn’t true.
The saga, which spurred a protracted court process and multiple federal lawsuits, quietly ended this month when the lone surviving suspect, Duane Aguero, accepted a plea deal for a voluntary manslaughter conviction and a 17-year prison sentence.
Aguero had initially been charged with murder in Wrenn’s death, despite a consensus between the prosecutor and defense attorney that he did not fire any shots.
In fact, Aguero didn’t bring a gun at all. He apparently armed himself with a medieval flail, a spiked metal ball linked by a chain to a wooden staff.
Aguero’s defense attorney, Annrae Angel, declined comment for this story. The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Carlos Vega, said the plea was proportional to Aguero’s role in the robbery that ended with Wrenn being shot.
“The voluntary manslaughter conviction for 17 years was commensurate for the conduct of Mr. Aguero,” Vega said.
Angel argued at the trial that Aguero was a last-minute call-up to participate in the ploy, after another accomplice was waylaid and did not get to the meetup spot with Jacquez and Matthew Castillo. Authorities said the suspects’ purpose for going to the office building on Lundy Avenue north of Murphy Avenue was to rob Wrenn of drugs and money.
Surveillance images from the building on the night Wrenn died show Jacquez holding what police described as a Tec-9 semiautomatic pistol, and Castillo holding a semiautomatic handgun. A man now identified as Aguero, with his face covered, is holding the flail.
In the surveillance footage, which police and prosecutors drew on in their account of the robbery, Aguero and Castillo appeared to be assaulting and robbing Wrenn, who at one point distracted his attackers and ran out of the room. Then, in a sequence outside the vantage point of security cameras, authorities said, Wrenn ran into a startled Jacquez, who shot him.
Three days later, on Aug. 16, 2015, Castillo was fatally shot by San Jose police officers Vidal Fonseca and Michael Jeffrey in front of a laundromat off Senter Road and Capitol Expressway. The officers had been following Castillo to arrest him, and they opened fire after he reportedly pointed a chrome-plated semiautomatic handgun at them.
Jeffrey told investigators that he fired a second time after a wounded Castillo, face-down on the ground, appeared to still be trying to point the handgun at them. Castillo’s family objected to the second round of gunfire, describing it as excessive. In May 2016, the family took out an ad in this newspaper seeking “the real truth” behind Castillo’s death. Castillo’s family declined to comment for this story.
The day after Castillo died, Jacquez was being followed by San Jose police who tried to get him to pull over, authorities said. Instead, according to a related District Attorney report, Jacquez drove away and crashed his car into a parked car near Stoneyhaven Avenue and Kirkhaven Court.
Before the impact, witnesses said Jacquez jumped out of the car and was hit by a police vehicle driven by Officer Jacob Morris. Jacquez continued running toward his cousin’s house a few yards away. Morris shot at the fleeing Jacquez, because, police said, he and other officers believed the suspect might still be armed with the gun he was holding in the surveillance video from the night Wrenn was killed.
Jacquez, who was unarmed, was shot in the back three times, and twice more when he turned around, the rotation presumably caused by the force of the bullets. He died at the scene.
In the immediate aftermath of Jacquez’s death, police initially said that Jacquez had reached into his waistband before Morris opened fire. The police department later retracted the waistband claim, which Morris himself did not make.
The circumstances fueled Jacquez’s family’s doubts about whether he should have been shot, regardless of what he was suspected of doing, and he became a symbol for police brutality protests mounted over the years by local civil-rights groups. Jacquez’s family filed multiple federal civil-rights lawsuits over his death, but a jury last year ruled in favor of the officer and the City of San Jose.
Through an attorney, Jacquez’s family declined to comment on the trial or Aguero’s plea.
Aguero was arrested a couple of weeks after his alleged accomplices died. He is scheduled for formal sentencing Dec. 23.
Published at Mon, 25 Nov 2019 06:03:00 +0000