Trial for 2007 'revenge' murder begins in Salt Lake City
The men were out of breath as they raced into the house. The car they had been driving was parked two blocks away, keys still in the ignition.
Anthony James Prater turned on the news as a breaking bulletin flashed on the screen: In the early hours of Nov. 27, 2007, 35-year-old Vincent Samora was fatally shot inside a car parked outside his mother's Glendale home.
Prater bounced on the balls of his feet; he laughed, witnesses testified at his murder trial Monday, and said, "he's sleeping with the fishes now."
Ryan Hal Sheppard was less enthused, witnesses said.
Sheppard had been driving the Jeep Grand Cherokee police later tied to Samora's shooting. He seemed nervous as he paced back and forth, the low hum of television news playing in the background.
Both men were later charged in Samora's murder.
But on the first day of Prater's murder trial Monday, the question was: Who pulled the trigger?
Prater, 28, was charged with aggravated murder and obstruction of justice, both first-degree felonies, and five counts of discharging a firearm from a vehicle, a third-degree felony. If convicted, he faces the possibility of life without parole or 20 years to life in prison.
Prosecutors presented evidence in 3rd District Court to show Prater was the man who shot and killed Samora in an act of revenge. He was motivated, they said, by Samora's court testimony two years prior against Christopher M. Archuleta, Prater's former cellmate.
"Vincent Samora is dead," said prosecutor Blake Hills. "He's dead because the defendant shot and killed him after he testified against the defendant's homeboy, Playboy."
But defense attorneys called witness testimony inconsistent and coerced.
Prater didn't pull the trigger, they said, Sheppard did. Prater was blamed with the crime when officers promised others involved more lenient treatment if they cooperated.
"Police told these witnesses, 'Get on the bus, or you're not going to get a deal,' " said defense attorney Kim Cordova. "That's what the state's case is based on: what these witnesses said."
Witnesses admitted lying to police at times. But it wasn't due to any promised leniency, they said.
They were scared.
Prater's then-girlfriend Donna Quintana, who pleaded guilty in this case to first-degree felony obstruction of justice for throwing the murder weapon into the Jordan River, took the stand Monday. She said she was testifying against Prater because it's a requirement of her sentence. If she refused or lied under oath, she would be sent to prison.
"I lied because I was afraid something was going to happen to me," she said, grabbing a tissue to wipe her tears. "I'd been getting threats. They were going to kill me if I said anything."
As she spoke, Prater watched from the defense table. He wore a dark green suit and polka dotted tie. Close-cropped hair covered several head tattoos.
"I was scared then," she said. "I'm scared now."
Defense attorneys attempted to portray Quintana as an unreliable witness, pointing to inconsistencies in her 2007 police interviews and 2008 testimony at Prater's preliminary hearing, and her checkered history of drug abuse.
Sheppard, the prosecution's eyewitness to Samora's murder, will testify Tuesday morning.
In 2008, he said Prater followed Samora and shot and killed the victim as he sat in his car talking with his girlfriend in the driveway of his Glendale home about 3 a.m.
Sheppard, now 31, is charged with first-degree counts of murder and obstruction of justice, as well as third-degree felony discharge of a weapon from a vehicle. No trial dates have been set for Sheppard.
Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty, but a judge said following a 2008 preliminary hearing that the homicide qualified as a potential capital crime because it was done to retaliate against a court witness, and because it put at risk the life of Samora's girlfriend, Tilina Whiteplume, who was in the car with him when the fatal shots were fired.
Whiteplume told the jury Samora covered her with his body as the bullets pierced her car. She later found one lodged in the back of her seat. If it had gone through, she would have been hit in the chest.
She didn't see who had done the shooting.
Prater's trial, before Judge Robin Reese, is scheduled to last through the week.