By Jill Harmacinski firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — LAWRENCE — Are Daniel Lee Lopez and Ronny Ramos the “cowards” that beat a 59-year-old Chinese food deliveryman to his death in 2009, as prosecutors allege, or are they innocent?
Jurors this morning will resume deliberations in the Salem, Mass. Superior Court trial that opened last Friday. Lopez, 24, is charged with Nguyen’s first-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and unarmed robbery, while Ramos, 20, is charged with unarmed robbery.
The trial was marked by a series of prosecution witnesses from Lawrence who said they couldn’t remember or didn’t want to testify about what happened on July 30, 2009, the night Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant living in Methuen, was robbed and assaulted after he delivered a Chinese food order to the Lawrence Stadium Housing Projects.
Prosecutors allege Lopez and Ramos called the Evergreen Restaurant at 105 So. Union St. that night with the intention of robbing Nguyen and stealing the food. At 10 p.m, Nguyen was struck, fell to the ground and fractured his skull on the sidewalk near the low-income housing development near Lawrence High School.
On Tuesday, Dr. Marie Cannon, a state medical examiner, testified that Nguyen suffered a 5-inch skull fracture. She said his cause of death was blunt force head trauma that led to fatal brain bleeding.
Just a single defense witness was called during the trial - Dr. William Stuart, an expert medical witness with a background in emergency room medicine.
When questioned by Aviva Jeruchim, Lopez’s attorney, Stuart said he was paid to testify at the trial.
Nguyen suffered from cirrohsis of the liver and had stomach surgery to remove gastric cancer - two medical conditions that effect blood clotting and bone strength, Stuart said.
“I was surprised by the amount of bone damage and the amount of bleeding that result from one alleged punch,” Stuart testified.
Carol Cahill, Ramos’ public defender, did not call any witnesses during the trial.
In her closing argument, Cahill pointed to prosecution witness Charlene Rios who admitted she was smoking pot the day Nguyen was assaulted.
She also said, “Rios couldn’t remember testifying before the grand jury and she wasn’t even high that day,” Cahill said. “She is not believable and she is not truthful ... No one could believe her beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Cahill also said prosecutors never showed Ramos had any intent to rob Nguyen.
“It’s not enough to merely be present at the scene of a crime. There has to be shared intent,” she said.
“There is no evidence of any plan, any interaction any discussion between these two people,” Cahill said, motioning towards Lopez and Ramos. She added there was no evidence “they even knew each other.”
Jeruchim in her closing argument lashed out at police, saying the detective work in the case was shoddy and witnesses were intimidated and threatened. Police, she said, never had the food order slip on the food bag taken from Nguyen tested for fingerprints.
State Trooper Robert Labarge, a lead detective in the case, did not “engage in polite conversation” with witnesses. “He said, ‘If you don’t tell me what I want to hear you’re going to be in trouble,’” Jeruchim said. “Trooper Labarge needed to put somebody at the scene,” she added.
Jeruchim also said the “big pink elephant in the room” was the fact the call to the Evergreen Restaurant that night, for the Chinese food, was not made with a phone belonging to Lopez or Ramos - but another man.
“You can’t make that pink elephant go away,” she said.
Prosecutor James Gubitose started his closing argument saying simply, “They robbed him and he killed him.”
The reluctance of witnesses to testify in a criminal proceeding is part of “the society of Lawrence,” Gubitose said.
The attack on Nguyen that night was “an unprovoked ambush. That’s what it was.”
He also refuted any notion Labarge threatened or intimated any witness.
“Big bad Trooper Labarge,” he said sarcastically, adding the job of a police investigator requires pressure and a push for the truth. There is “no plan to frame these guys for no reason,” he said.
“They are cowards the way they treated that man,” Gubitose said.
Jurors only deliberated for about 30 minutes yesterday before they were dismissed for the day and the courthouse closed. They will resume deliberations today.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.