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Star closing arguments in Siavii; jury begins deliberating Monday

by Tom Nadeau
of Notable Trials

The jury heard two persuasive closing arguments Thursday in People v. Poe Blue Siavii, #08F07611 and was expected to begin deliberating Monday whether the Samoan defendant was guilty of first degree murder under special circumstances.

If convicted, Siavii could be sentenced to life in prison for May 5, 2008 killing of Joshua Kalb, 27, at the Elkhorn Boulevard Park ‘n’ Ride lot off Highway 99.

The jury must decide which one is telling the truth: Siavii, an admitted mover and shaker in the Sacramento bulk drug trade, or Steven Riddick, Siavii’s trusted money “mule” in the exchange of pounds of methamphetamine for hundreds of thousands of dollars from dope distributors in Oahu, Hawaii.

Sacramento Deputy District Attorney Chris Ore presented ample evidence that Kalb had been killed, that money was the root of the that evil-doing and how, when and where the murder took place.

Defense attorney Kyle Knapp disputed little or nothing of those allegations. What he did dispute, however, was that his client Siavii was the shooter.

The case hinges on how one spins the mass of evidence presented and various witnesses’ statements, some of them made in the Samoan language, which, it turns out, is open to differing interpretations.

It's all in how you look at it ...

There were numerous calls between various cell phones used by Siavii, Kalb and Riddick in the hours leading up to the murder. Many of the calls were made from cars tooling around the Sacramento environs.

Telecommunications experts could read the phone bills and tell the approximate locations of where the calls were made, if the recipient answered and for how long the parties talked.

But as the defense brought out, it was not necessarily possible to know for sure, which person had actually made the call, only that the phone was used.

After all the arrangements were made and meeting set up, the prosecution argued that the subsequent events took place like this.

Siavii was said to have owed Kalb about $30,000 and had promised that a messenger was coming in from Hawaii to deliver the cash. A meeting had been set up for the Park ‘n’ lot at a late hour when the location would be empty.

Kalb picked up Siavii and drove to the lot where the two waited in the car for the cash man to arrive, having driven from the Sacramento airport.

While waiting, Siavii drank a can of Coca-Cola and smoked a Marlboro cigarette, dropping the empty can and the butt on the ground beside the car, both sides agreed.

According to Ore, when the expected car pulled in, Siavii got out of the front passenger seat and got into the back seat behind Kalb, while Riddick was to join Kalb in the front seat.

At that time, however, Siavii, now positioned behind the unsuspecting Kalb, pulled out his automatic pistol and shot Kalb twice in the back of the head.

Siavii and Riddick then wiped the death car down for fingerprints, collected the expended shell casings and left the scene.

Well, that’s how Riddick and the prosecution portray the events.

Siavii and Knapp describe it otherwise.

According to them, everything took place exactly as described by the prosecution, except when Riddick got out of the arriving vehicle Siavii remained in the front seat and Riddick got into the back seat behind Kalb and pulled out the weapon and discharged the two rounds.

The events thereafter resume following the prosecution’s interpretation, except for some small but important details, to wit, how the Coke can and ciggie butt got where they did and why they remained there until Sacramento Sheriff’s investigators arrived.

Showing the jury a prosecution photo on the projector screen of the grass divider beside the parking spot evidence markers standing over the can and the butt, Knapp noted that the objects would be exactly where front seat occupant Siavii would have dropped them, just outside the passenger window.

Moreover, if his client were the calculating killer the prosecution claimed, then why would he 1) purposely drop such evidence at the scene of the planned murder, and 2) after killing Kalb, clean up all the other evidence, but leave the Coke can and the butt behind?

No, the prosecution’s protected witness was the true killer and his motive was sheer ambition, Knapp told the jury. He was simply trying to move up the drug trade chain.

Ore countered this by portraying Riddick as a small fry member of the drug ring, a simple “mule.”

He further supported the prosecution’s assertion of Siavii’s guilt with evidence he said showed Siavii had, in fact, admitted killing Kalb in a Samoan language telephone call with Riddick that had been monitored and recorded by investigating detectives.

A portion of a transcription of that phone call translated by a prosecution interpreter was shown and quoted to the jury.

It went in part:
RIDDICK: The time you shot him was the phone on?
SIAVII: No.
[...]
RIDDICK: And you did not tell anybody what you did to Josh?”
SIAVII: No.
At that point, if Riddick had been the killer, any ordinary person would have butted in and said, “But I didn’t shoot him. You did,” Ore argued to the jury.

Knapp contended that the translation offered by the interpreter did not accurately convey the subtle nuances of the Samoan language.

For spectators observing these two crackerjack closing arguments given by two wily and experienced attorneys was, in its own way, as riveting as watching a courtroom movie drama perhaps starring Dustin Hoffman as Ore and Michael Caine as Knapp.

It probably was not as much fun for Siavii, but that is the name of the game.

When the arguments were over, Judge James L, Long, went over three last minute objections and motions raised by Knapp.

One of the options in the packet of written instructions that goes to the jury had to do with a charge of “aiding and abetting” leveled against Siavii.

How Ore had described the “aiding and abetting” option to the jury was improper, Knapp said, and he moved for a mistrial on that basis.

If the judge did not call a mistrial, Knapp said he would like to at least be allowed a surrebuttal* to respond to the prosecution’s allegedly improper statement.

Failing those two options, Knapp suggested that the verdict option of “aiding and abetting” be deleted entirely from the jury instructions.

Long denied all three motions.

The court day was nearing its end when Judge Long began reading the final instructions to the jury.

Before starting his reading, Long asked the jury to return after the reading and elect a foreman. The is now expected to begin deliberating Monday.

*According to Black’s Law Dictionary a surrebutter is “a plaintiff’s answer to a defendant’s rebutter.” In US criminal trials, the prosecution and defense each get a closing argument, but usually only the prosecution gets to rebut the defense closing. Occasionally, a judge can allow the defense a surrebuttal – something that is rarely permitted.

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