By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
Court was adjourned shortly before 5 p.m. Monday with still no verdict in the second trial in the case of an alleged carjacking in January.
Attorneys for both the state and defendant Bobby Stensland, 19, began closing arguments around 3:30 p.m., and the jury began its deliberations around 4.
Prior to the deliberations, the state concluded its case with three witnesses, including Juan Garcia, a fellow inmate of Jose Gil, 25, who was recently convicted of charges relating to the carjacking.
Garcia told prosecutor Russell Hasenbank he contacted law enforcement for Gil and wrote a letter to lead detective Russell Almes of the Liberal Police Department, in which Garcia told the investigator the inmate knew everything about the case.
Hasenbank questioned Garcia about the letter’s contents, and Garcia said due to his past drug use, he could not remember what he wrote.
Under cross examination, Garcia said Gil told him he was being accused of robbery or theft, but he never implicated Stensland or himself.
Before recessing for lunch, Stensland’s attorney, Derek Miller, motioned for a dismissal of charges related to the damage of a Buick Regal around Jan. 10, the day of the alleged incident. Miller said there was no credible evidence or forensic evidence in that case, and there were no eyewitnesses.
Miller also said the 1982 Regal was bought in 2007 for $1,500, and with depreciation and damage, it was worth less than $1,000. The attempted theft charge Stensland faces is for property of at least $1,000, but less than $25,000.
Miller likewise argued that none of the state’s witnesses knew the value of the car for sure. Hasenbank said one of the state’s witnesses, Bree Downs, is an auto body teacher at Seward County Community College/Area Technical School and as such, would qualify her as an expert witness.
District Judge Clint Peterson said since the day of the alleged incident, the car has likely been repaired, and with those repairs, it is now worth more than $1,000. He also ruled there was sufficient evidence for the two other counts related to the alleged theft of the Regal. He, therefore, denied Miller’s motion.
Miller also motioned to dismiss a charge of aggravated kidnapping against Stensland, saying there was no credible evidence and that the defendant merely conspired in the alleged incident.
Hasenbank said all of the stories from all of the witnesses were consistent. Peterson likewise denied Miller’s motion, saying the four suspects, Stensland, Gil, Matthew Perez, 27, and Juan Garza, 26, were each part of the game plan and all responsible for one another, making them each equally guilty.
In the afternoon session, the defense made its case by recalling Almes to the stand, having already testified for the state. Miller questioned the detective as to fingerprint testing done on the Regal or on the Blazer belonging to Hector Mata, the victim of the alleged carjacking. Almes said no fingerprints were found, and he added there were no eyewitnesses tying Stensland to the theft of the Regal, merely statements made from Garcia and fellow inmate Shawn Smith.
Almes testified that during an interview with Gil, the suspect told him that Garza and Stensland, a caucasian, approached Mata’s vehicle upon pulling into the taco stand on South Kansas on Jan. 10. Mata’s testimony, however, said two Hispanics had approached his car.
During a lengthy cross examination, Almes said gloves were worn during the alleged crime, thus no fingerprints were revealed. He said an evidence tech had shown the vehicles had been wiped clean.
Hasenbank said all of the statements from witnesses point to a black Suburban, which was driven on Jan. 10 from Garden City to Liberal for the alleged crime. The statements also reveal four men, wearing bandannas, and one witness, Karina Salazar, a waitress at the taco stand, said she saw a white man get out of the Suburban and approach the Blazer.
Almes’ testimony also revealed Stensland was present with the other three suspects in Garden City when the plan for the crime was being discussed.
Hasenbank said during the entire time of the alleged incident, Stensland was present, and this included in Garden City, at the vo-tech, at 11th and Kansas, where another witness, Guillermo Delatorre, said he saw the group attempting another carjacking, at the taco stand and at the field on Oak Street in Liberal, in which Mata was allegedly left after being thrown from his Blazer.
Hasenbank said all of the evidence of the case shows Stensland took himself out of the vehicle, and none of it shows anybody forced the suspect to do anything.
Stensland is charged with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, burglary, attempted theft of property of at least $1,000, but less than $25,000 and criminal damage to property.
Following closing statements, jurors began their deliberations, and those were scheduled to continue starting at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Stensland, Gil, Garza and Perez were arrested between Jan. 29 and March 1 by authorities in Ford and Finney counties, according to a statement from Liberal Police Capt. Pat McClurg.
Those arrests came following the alleged Jan. 10 incident in which a handicapped victim was forced out of his vehicle without his wheelchair and had to crawl for help.
The victim’s Blazer was later recovered in Finney County.