Alameda County Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon will soon decide whether there is enough evidence to try two men and a woman in the stabbing of 17-year-old Justice Afoa, who bled to death on a Newark sidewalk ten days before Christmas in 2010.
Rafael Tovar, 32, his half-sister, Daniela Guzman, 19, and their friend Daniel Howard, 31, have plead not guilty to the charges they face.
Even before his ruling, however, it was obvious from statements inside and court that the incident was sparked by a fight between Afoa and Tovar — a clash of clans that ended in tragedy and, perhaps, trial.
Speaking for Afoa outside the courtroom was his sister, Dinah.
Inside the court, Guzman’s text messages — read by Newark police who seized them as evidence — voice her side in the dispute that, setting aside guilt or innocence, preceded Afoa’s death.
Dinah Afoa said Justice was one of six children, four boys and two girls. He was 6 feet tall and buff, a physical guy who had played football up until his senior year in high school when his grades slipped and he became ineligible.
She said he was not a brawler.
“He was the jokester, he was always smiling and laughing,” she recalled.
But on the night of September 11, 2010, Justice Afoa got into a fight with Tovar outside Guzman’s house that proved to be fateful.
The incident occurred when Justice and some friends showed up after a quinceanera — the 15th birthday ceremony important in Hispanic culture.
Dinah Afoa said her brother only got physical after Tovar bad-mouthed his friends.
In text messages read in court, Guzman said Afoa and two friends jumped her brother and left him unconscious in her own driveway.
Newark Police Detective Dan Anderson, a specialist in using cell phone data to solve crimes, read aloud texts sent from Guzman’s phone to the phone of “Danny” Howard who “she trusted like a brother.”
Reading a litany of messages Anderson argued that, from the night of that September 11 altercation, while Rafael Tovar was being treated at Eden Hospital in Castro Valley, the trio talked of avenging the attack.
There was an Oct. 30 Halloween party where a fight broke out between some of Guzman’s friends — but neither of her co-defendants — and Afoa and his retinue.
One of Afoa’s friends was stabbed in that altercation.
Anderson read texts that purports to show that Guzman got into a dialogue with a friend in which the co-defendant justified the stabbing while lamenting that it had been off target
“The n---- who was supposed to be stabbed didn’t get hit,” according to the text message from Guzman’s phone that was read in court.
Dinah Afoa said her family believed that Justice was at risk.
“He was supposed to go stay with our aunt in Modesto,” she told Patch.
But that didn’t happen.
On Dec. 15, 2010, a little before 4 p.m., as Justice Afoa walked on Cedar Boulevard near Birch Street, two men stabbed him and fled.
Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Elgin Lowe hopes to convince Judge Reardon that he has the evidence to try Howard and Tovar for the stabbing, and implicate Guzman as their co-conspirator.
In court Tuesday Tovar and Guzman sat at the defendant’s table, each with their lawyer at their right elbow.
Howard and his lawyer sat off to the side in the box normally reserved for the jury.
Conferring occasionally with their attorneys, the trio clad in red jail jumpsuits listened intently to the testimony that will determine the next stage in their legal fates.
The preliminary examination will continue Wednesday at the Hayward Hall of Justice.
- Judge Weighs Evidence Against Trio Accused Of Plot To Kill Justice Afoa
- Accused Trio In Justice Afoa Murder Plead Not Guilty
- Justice Afoa Case: Fourth Suspect Arrested
- Justice Afoa Case: Arrests Made in 2010 Teen Slaying
- 17-year-old Student Stabbed to Death Near Newark Memorial High