Jurors heard opening statements from attorneys Thursday at the trial of an Iraq war veteran charged with voluntary manslaughter for the shooting death of his friend.
Christopher Sullivan, 26, had returned to the United States from reserve Military duty in Iraq only a week prior to the incident that resulted in the death of Cesar Valdez in the early morning hours of April 9, 2006.
During his opening statement in West Valley Superior Court, Deputy District Attorney Tom Colclough said Sullivan, a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, put his department-issued pistol in Valdez’s mouth and pulled the trigger. Valdez, 24, died within minutes.
The two men were friends since they were classmates at Damien High School in La Verne, and they went out partying with a large group on April 8 to celebrate Sullivan’s return home from Iraq after nearly a year overseas.
Valdez was shot in front of Sullivan’s home in Upland. Valdez and his girlfriend had dropped Sullivan off, and Valdez was saying goodbye to Sullivan at the time of the incident, Colclough said.
David Goldstein, Sullivan’s attorney, said during his opening statement that Sullivan was holding his holstered weapon in his hand, and Valdez pulled the weapon into his own mouth. Valdez’s yanking motion caused the weapon to fire, Goldstein said.
In addition to the voluntary manslaughter charge, Sullivan faces one count of improper use of a firearm. He faces up to 21 years in prison if convicted on both counts.
During Colclough’s opening statement, he projected graphic photos of Valdez’s wounds from the shooting and emphasized Sullivan’s apparent failure to follow Marine and sheriff’s department rules on safe gun use.
During Goldstein’s opening statement, he emphasized Sullivan’s military service in Iraq — he said Sullivan was inspired by a dream at age 17 to join the Marines — and projected side-by-side pictures of Sullivan in his Marine uniform and in his sheriff’s deputy uniform.
Goldstein said that at a house party the night of the shooting, witnesses saw Valdez put Sullivan’s gun in his mouth, then tell Sullivan, “I trust you, bro.”
The implication to the jury appeared to be that Valdez’s eventual shooting death may have occurred under the same circumstances.
After both attorneys gave their statements, a Marine reservist who served with Sullivan testified that military rules prohibit Marines from carrying a loaded weapon off-base when not on duty.
A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department weapons-training specialist also testified about proper department weapons procedures. The deputy said Sullivan did not follow some of the regulations.
Sullivan’s trial is set to continue Monday.