A gang member who was on parole when an argument in the courtyard of a Desert Hot Springs apartment building turned deadly was convicted Friday of second-degree murder.
Edwardo Stultz, 25, of Cathedral City, was found guilty after three days of jury deliberations in the Dec. 13, 2016, slaying of 37-year-old Coachella resident Johnny Rodrigues.
On Wednesday, the panel announced that it had convicted Stultz of first-degree murder, but when polled by the court, one juror stated that she did not agree with the verdict, sending the jury back to deliberate for another two days. Friday afternoon, the panel returned a second-degree murder conviction, and also found Stultz guilty of a felony count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, with a sentence-enhancing allegation of committing the murder for the benefit of a gang.
He’s slated to be sentenced on Nov. 30.
Prosecutors said Rodrigues was arguing with Stultz and another man shortly before being shot multiple times just before 3 a.m. He was pronounced dead later that day at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs.
The victim “was unable to say who shot him and quickly went into cardiac arrest on scene,” but witnesses placed Stultz and another shooter, who remains at large, at the apartment complex, court documents show.
A video surveillance system at the apartment was not working on the day of the shooting, and the murder weapon, believed to be a .357 revolver, was never recovered. A ballistics expert testified it was unclear whether bullets recovered from the victim’s body came from one or multiple guns.
Stultz’s attorney, Bosky Kathuria, claimed that prosecutors built their case on the unreliable eyewitness testimony of drug addicts, who were coerced by law enforcement to identify his client. Kathuria alleged the prosecution’s case was “built (on) a house of cards of drug-addled, coerced, hearsay statements” rather than hard physical evidence.
Deputy District Attorney Anthony Orlando told jurors that when Stultz was taken into custody the night of the shooting, he told police that they could not believe the word of “tweakers” who identified him, despite not being told why he was brought in for questioning.
Stultz also told investigators that he was at his sister’s home all day until that evening, but Orlando said witnesses spotted him elsewhere in the city around 7 that morning. Stultz told police that no one could corroborate his presence at the home because he was apparently alone until he left his sister’s residence sometime around 4 p.m.