A Desert Hot Springs man sentenced to life in prison without parole for his part in the alleged 1994 fatal shooting of a 17-year-old boy returns to court Monday as part of the process for him to begin a new trial.
An appeals court ruled in 2017 the evidence against Ian Davis Hudgins was inconclusive and that a prosecutor made an improper argument during his first trial, allowing for a new trial to proceed.
Hudgins was convicted in 2013 for his alleged role in the fatal shooting of Jahi Collins on Dec. 21, 1994.
A jury found Hudgins guilty of first-degree murder and found true a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait.
He also was found guilty of attempted murder for the alleged injury shooting of Collins’ friend, Bobby Wilson, while the victims sat in a car in the city’s Wardman Park. Wilson was paralyzed as a result of the shooting.
Hudgins is accused of driving gang members Emilio Avalos and Sergio Padilla to the park, where Avalos and Padilla shot the teens in retaliation for a previous fight, according to prosecutors. Avalos was convicted both for the shooting and for the 2001 killing of 20-year-old Marine Cpl. Henry Lozano, for which he was sentenced to death. Padilla was charged in the shooting but was never tried and his current whereabouts are unknown.
Hudgins contended during the trial that he only drove the men to the park briefly, then drove them home.
A guilty verdict was reached after the jury twice announced that they were hopelessly deadlocked, after which the court granted the prosecution a third closing argument.
An appeals court ruled in 2017 that Deputy District Attorney Pete Nolan made an improper argument by appealing to the jury’s emotions during his final closing argument.
According to a transcript, Nolan told jurors, “19 years … 6,735 days. That’s how long the Collins family has waited for justice” and “We do not want six weeks of time, your time, our time, witness time, to be kicked down the road only to do this all over again.”
Hudgins’ attorney objected, alleging prosecutorial misconduct for appealing to the jury’s emotions, particularly with references made to Collins’ family waiting for justice and suggesting that time would be wasted if the jury did not return a verdict.
The appeals court agreed and also ruled that the judge should have instructed the jury that the prosecutor’s statements did constitute misconduct.
The ruling also found that evidence connecting Hudgins to the murder “left much room for reasonable doubt of his guilt.”