Murder followed drug ripoff, jurors told

2014-07-29T17:30:00Z 2014-07-31T07:55:15Z Murder followed drug ripoff, jurors toldBy Patrick McNamara Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

After a drug ripoff, prosecutors say, a Tucson man ran down the man who stole his drugs and money and shot him in the back numerous times.

Deputy Pima County Attorney Julie Sottosanti said Jovon Luis Mankel committed first-degree murder when he chased a man through a parking lot and shot him, continuing to fire even after the victim fell.

Mankel was on trial Wednesday before Pima County Superior Court Judge Javier Chon-Lopez, charged with first-degree murder, aggravated assault and discharging a firearm at a nonresidential structure.

The state argues Mankel, 24, killed Jose Carlos “J.C.” Gonzales in the parking lot of an Eegee’s restaurant on North Oracle and West Roger roads in Sept. 2012.

Sottosanti warned jurors probably wouldn’t like Gonzales, 29, once they learned the circumstances surrounding his death, but said he was the victim of premeditated murder nonetheless.

“This was a drug rip from the beginning,” Sottosanti said.

Mankel and Priscilla Rodriguez, 22, his then-girlfriend, agreed to meet in the parking lot of Eegee’s to sell Gonzales 50 Percocet pills for about $500.

The couple waited in Rodriguez’s car when Gonzales and accomplice Leslie Janette Vega climbed in the back seat. After a brief exchange, Gonzales pulled a gun and demanded the drugs and other valuables.

“He just said ‘Hi,’ then put a gun to my head,” Rodriguez testified.

Gonzales and Vega then took the items and fled toward a waiting car. That’s when Mankel pursued Gonzales and shot him, Sottosanti said.

Defense attorney Staci Vierthaler said Mankel shot the victim in self-defense.

“Jovon was defending himself and his girlfriend, Priscilla, from an extremely aggressive attacker,” Vierthaler said.

She argued evidence presented at the trial will show Gonzales, even after fleeing the car, turned toward the defendant while armed with a gun, which caused Mankel to shoot.

“He was not walking away, he was not retreating,” Vierthaler said.

She also questioned Rodriguez’s motives, noting she too had been charged with first-degree murder, possession of narcotics with intent to sell and hindering prosecution before accepting a deal with the state. Rodriguez pleaded guilty to attempted hindering prosecution, a crime for which she was sentenced to probation.

The plea required she testify against Mankel.

In addition, Rodriguez reluctantly admitted the gun Mankel used to kill Gonzales belonged to her. In police interview transcripts read in court, Rodriguez told investigators she kept the weapon in her car for protection.

Gonzales’ girlfriend, Selina Viola Acosta, also testified at Wednesday’s trial, telling Sottosanti she waited in a nearby car and watched the defendant shoot Gonzales.

Public defender Matt Messmer read a portion of Acosta’s police interview during cross-examination where she admitted to knowing Gonzales planned to steal the drugs from Mankel and Rodriguez.

In the interview, Acosta, 27, told police Gonzales said: “‘I’m going to jack her.’”

Asked if she ever tried to stop Gonzales from committing the drug rip, Acosta said no.

The trial continues Thursday.

Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at pmcnamara@tucson.com or 573-4241. On Twitter @pm929

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