Kent murder trial in Devin Topps' death goes to jury

Jessica Berliner, King County senior deputy prosecutor, tells the jury on Dec. 16 why they should convict Jorge Lizarraga for the 2010 murder of Devin Topps, whose photo stands behind her. - STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter
Jessica Berliner, King County senior deputy prosecutor, tells the jury on Dec. 16 why they should convict Jorge Lizarraga for the 2010 murder of Devin Topps, whose photo stands behind her.
— image credit: STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

A King County Superior Court jury will begin deliberations Tuesday in Kent about whether Jorge Lizarraga shot and killed Devin Topps during a fight after a 2010 Halloween party.

Jessica Berliner, senior deputy prosecuting attorney, told jurors on Monday during closing arguments that witnesses and evidence prove that Lizarraga, 23, killed Topps on Oct. 31, 2010 outside of a Kent home and is guilty of second-degree murder.

"The only issue in this case is identity," Berliner said. "(Witness) Marlit Vela told you she saw the person that killed Devin Topps walk up to him, point a gun at his back and pull the trigger. If you do that, press a gun against somebody's back and pull the trigger, you're trying to kill him. And if he dies on the street like Devin did you've committed a murder…. Because Devin died as a result of that shot, there's no doubt this is a felony murder."

Vela earlier in the trial identified Lizarraga in the courtroom as the man who shot Topps.

Topps, 18, a popular Kentridge High School student and football player, became involved in a fist fight with another man outside the house party when prosecutors alleged Lizarraga pulled out a gun and fired multiple shots into the air, causing people at the party to scatter, before he walked up to Topps and shot him once in the back. Topps died at the scene.

Jurors heard from more than 40 witnesses during the six-week trial and saw nearly 170 exhibits.

Berliner told jurors the evidence included nine shell casings found by Kent Police at the scene that matched the gun Lizarraga had stolen four days prior to the shooting of Topps during a burglary of a Washington State Patrol trooper's home in Federal Way. He then used that gun to shoot Topps. Detectives later recovered that gun in a Des Moines motel room where Lizarraga stayed after the shooting. Kent Police arrested Lizarraga in December 2010 for the murder of Topps.

"You have a credible, collaborated eyewitness who had no motive to lie and has no stake in this case," Berliner said. "She was standing right next to him. Frankly, this is enough evidence for you to find the defendant guilty. But that's not all you have, not by a long shot. You have significant circumstantial evidence in this case that confirms everything Marlit says."

Berliner said the other evidence included witness accounts and text messages that show Lizarraga attended the party as well as the shell casings from the gun that he had stolen and the gun itself.

Defense attorney Walter Peale told the jurors during his nearly two-hour closing argument that the witness Vela didn't get a good view of Lizarraga and didn't even know his name until Vanessa Quiroz, another woman at the party, told her his name.

"Marlit doesn't know whether it's Jorge or not because she can't see his face clearly because it's pitch black out," Peale said.

Peale said other witnesses descriptions of the shooter didn't match Lizarraga. He said other men at the scene could have fired the gun rather than Lizarraga.

"Jorge may have been there but that doesn't mean he's the one that she (Vela) saw," Peale said. "Vanessa reacted to a particular detail and expressed the name and in the shock of the moment had no reason to think it was anybody else, Marlit adopts the name. And then it became Jorge from then on."

The defense attorney also argued that other people stayed in the motel room where Lizarraga lived and had access to the gun. He added it could have been someone else who did the shooting.

"Nobody but Marlit said Jorge had a gun at the party," Peale said. "Nobody but Marlit describes Jorge as having shot the gun. Nobody describes Jorge as having any activity or any involvement with Mr. Topps. Marlit only describes a man in the dark, whose face she couldn't see and whose clothing she generally recognized and described to someone else who in response to the description of the clothing said you mean Jorge even though she herself had not seen Jorge."

Prior to the shooting, Topps had left the party to walk a friend to her car. Someone in a group outside the house made a comment to Topps that the  Kentridge star didn't like. A second comment led to a fight between Topps and two other men before Lizarraga reportedly entered the fight and shot Topps once in the back.

Topps had signed in 2010 to play football at Eastern Washington University but didn't enroll in the school because of low grades. He had hoped to enroll at Eastern in winter 2011. Nearly 1,000 people attended the memorial service for Topps three years ago.

Peale also tried to punch holes in the prosecutor's accusations that the shell casings matched the gun and that the fingerprints found at the burglarized home matched Lizarraga.

Judge Patrick Oishi told jurors they had no minimum or maximum time frame for when they must reach a verdict. All 12 must agree on a verdict.

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