Prosecutors said Jeffrey Aguilar was not only a coldblooded predator who robbed and killed an Oxnard businessman five years ago but also someone who chose the gang lifestyle because it gave him a sense of power.
In closing arguments Thursday in the penalty phase of Aguilar’s murder trial in Ventura County Superior Court, prosecutor Andrea Tischler asked jurors to recommend he receive the death penalty for the Aug. 16, 2008, fatal shooting of Gurmohinder Singh as the 55-year-old businessman left a US Bank with $100,000.
“There was no fever pitch in the actions when he murdered Mr. Singh,” Ticshler said. “There has been no evidence that his actions were a product of emotion and no evidence of duress.
“I believe it is much easier to beg for someone’s life than to ask you what I must — to impose death. It is the defendant’s fault why he is in this position. “
Last month, the same jurors found Aguilar guilty of first-degree murder and second-degree robbery. They also found to be true special circumstances, including that Aguilar discharged a firearm while committing a crime and intentionally committed murder by means of lying in wait.
Tischler said Aguilar, 27, was not only the one who “pulled the trigger” and killed Singh but also was the mastermind who enlisted others to help him carry out his plan. Tischler said Aguilar had no regard for Singh’s life and was seen “partying like a rock star” and gambling at a casino soon after the murder.
“That shows you the lack of remorse that is bone-deep in this man,” Tischler said. “He is evil.”
Defense attorney Steven Powell, however, said prosecutors have tried to “animalize” Aguilar by categorizing him as an evil predator.
Powell said that though Aguilar’s behavior is not excusable, jurors should consider the testimony of expert witnesses who said Aguilar’s exposure to the gang environment of La Colonia contributed to his actions.
Powell asked jurors to consider that Aguilar, a member of the Colonia Chiques gang, essentially grew up among gang members during a pivotal point in his development.
From age 14 to 18, Aguilar spent at least 600 days in juvenile detention, Powell said.
“That is where he grew up,” Powell said. “This young man grew up in custody ... in the belly of the beast. This was a young man who is very much gang-entrenched.”
But Tischler said Aguilar had a choice to avoid the gang lifestyle. He had the same role models and opportunities as older brother Saul Aguilar Jr., who received a master’s degree, has a job and contributes to society, Tischler said.
Tischler also asked jurors to consider other incidents when Aguilar tried to shoot others, including a shootout in Oxnard with police officers as they tried to arrest him seven days after Singh’s killing.
Aguilar was eventually arrested in Carpenteria on Aug. 25, 2008.
Tischler also told jurors to consider a 2004 incident in which Aguilar allegedly shot another man in Port Hueneme. Aguilar was never charged with that shooting.
Powell said that though prosecutors would like jurors to think Aguilar’s murder conviction alone is enough to justify the death penalty, the 12-member panel and alternates should instead consider the evidence presented during the trial’s penalty phase.
“My client did not spring from his mother’s womb with murderous intent,” Powell said. “He is not an animal, and he is not a monster.”
Powell will continue his closing arguments Friday.