Case Acquitted: Defendant Takes the Stand in 2023 Non-Fatal Shooting Case Before Closings

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Jose Zuniga was acquitted of all charges on Feb. 15, 2024.

On Feb. 14, parties completed a detective’s cross examination and the defendant testified in a non-fatal shooting trial before DC Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz.

Jose Zuniga, 28, is charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, and simple assault, for his alleged involvement in a non-fatal shooting incident which occurred on Nov. 11, 2023, at a shelter on the 400 block of 2nd Street, NW. There were no injuries reported. 

According to Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) documents, two men were involved in an argument while inside a shelter. During the argument, the suspect shot at the victim and fled the scene.

The prosecution questioned an MPD detective who was at the scene 10 minutes after the shooting and took photos of the defendant the same day of the attack. They allegedly show that Zuniga was wearing the same clothes in the photos as in video surveillance of the shelter immediately following the shooting. 

According to the detective, he utilized an MPD phone to record surveillance video of the shelter. In the footage, Zuniga is allegedly seen in a Mickey Mouse shirt running across the lobby following the shooting. The detective testified that he showed the footage to the victim and his brother.

In cross examination, Joseph Molina, Zuniga’s defense attorney, asked about the initial description of the shooter that MPD officers were told to check. Molina asked how it went from a Latino male with a white jacket, neck tattoo, and gloves to MPD officers arresting Zuniga, who did not match the description.

The detective responded that MPD had received calls from shelter staff claiming the shooter had come back to the shelter and that the victim had identified Zuniga by a photo. 

According to the detective, he took Zuniga into custody when MPD responded to the shelter’s staff’s call.  Molina also asked the detective if Zuniga had gloves in any video surveillance of the shelter, and the detective responded no.

Following the detective’s testimony, Molina motioned for acquittal, citing contradictory testimony from the prosecution’s witnesses.  

Judge Leibovitz stated that the victim’s testimony was “unclear”, but that she “is constrained to send this to the jury.” The court denied the motion since the victim identified Zuniga as his assailant.

In an unexpected development, Zuniga decided to testify on his own behalf, thus opening himself to cross examination.

Zuniga said although he had acted aggressively in the initial interaction with thosw in the bathroom, he tried to leave because he “was scared of getting punched.”

According to Zuniga, as he attempted to leave, he was challenged to a fight “outside” by the victim. Zuniga accepted but as he was heading outside, he and the victim got into a “struggle” in the hallway allowing Zuniga to escape and seek help.

While Zuniga admitted to threatening the victim’s brother with a drill, he ran from the second altercation when he saw a knife in the hand of the victim’s brother. According to Zuniga, he heard the first gunshot as he was running to hide. 

Zuniga claims the weapon was fired by an individual in a white puffer coat known as “El Mecanico,” who he saw during the second and third shot. Zuniga claims the phone video of him running across the shelter lobby was him “escaping.” 

In cross examination of Zuniga, the prosecution asked him about the swarm of men following him to the shooting. Zuniga said he only told one friend to come with him, the rest followed because of rumors of a fight.

Toward the end of Zuniga’s cross examination, the prosecution asked him why he told the detective that he did not know who had the gun when he had just testified the opposite. Zuniga responded that he did not want to reveal El Mecanico’s identity at the time because he “never thought it [the incident] was this serious”. 

During closing arguments, the prosecution said that the incident occurred because Zuniga “was denied access to a bathroom at the particular time he wanted to. Instead, he goes ballistic.” After exiting the building and returning with a crowd, the prosecution argues that it was Zuniga’s “extreme overreaction that ultimately motivates Zuniga to point the gun at [the victim] and pull the trigger.”

After hearing testimony from multiple witnesses, the prosecution requested the jury to focus on the victim’s testimony and identification of Zuniga, seen from a responding officer’s body-worn camera footage. The prosecution stated that the victim “knows the face of the person who assaulted him.”

Molina submitted that prosecution has not met the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, due to contradictory testimony from witnesses. Molina stated that Zuniga had “consciousness of innocence” the day of the incident. That’s why Zuniga remained in the area after being denied access back into the building. 

“A guilty man would run for the hills folks,” Molina said.

The jury is set to deliberate Feb. 15.

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