Prosecutors say Hugo Moguel Tepanca killed a man in a fit of road rage, shooting him five times after the victim looked at his wife wrong and made an obscene hand gesture in traffic.
Tepanca’s attorney said while his client doesn’t dispute shooting 23-year-old Jose Vargas, it was prompted by “passion and provocation” stemming from a complicated love triangle.
A Hall County Superior Court jury heard opening statements Tuesday in Tepanca’s trial on charges of murder and aggravated assault.
Assistant District Attorney Vanessa Sykes told the jury that Tepanca, 30, twice made self-incriminating statements shortly after the shooting, which was witnessed in the daylight hours of April 20, 2008, outside a Merck Street home.
A witness who heard the shots called 911 and gave a description of a burnt-orange pickup truck. When Gainesville Police Officer Mike Huckaby approached a truck matching the description to talk to the driver, Tepanca voluntarily stated, “I’m the one you’re looking for,” according to Sykes.
An ammunition magazine for a 9 mm handgun was found in Tepanca’s shirt pocket, and a gun and spent shell casing was located in the truck.
Tepanca later gave a confession to a Hall County investigator at the sheriff’s headquarters, according to Sykes.
“He’s telling the officer, telling you — the jury, that he committed murder because he was mad,” Sykes said.
“Mr. Tepanca admitted executing Jose Vargas over some kind of road-rage incident, for disrespecting his wife,” Sykes said.
Tepanca’s public defender, Andy Maddox, called the shooting “an unusual case.”
“There is a ‘rest of the story’ that we believe is going to be presented to you in the next couple of days,” Maddox told the jury.
Maddox said he expected the evidence would show that his client, who was married with children, was seeing another woman who wanted to end their affair. By chance, the mistress and Tepanca’s sister-in-law were next-door neighbors; and on the day of the shooting, Tepanca spotted Vargas leaving his lover’s apartment, Maddox said.
“There’s going to be a confrontation between Moguel Tepanca and the victim on the porch, and there are words exchanged at that time,” Maddox said. “We believe that was the ignition – the passion and provocation that led to this tragic event.
“I don’t think you’ll see a dispute as to the particulars of what happened,” Maddox said. “But why it happened is in big dispute.”
The defense is expected to ask the jury at trial’s end to consider a verdict of voluntarily manslaughter, according to statements Maddox made to Judge Kathlene Gosselin outside the presence of the jury Tuesday.
The first witness to testify was Dixie Wojeck, who lives on McConnell Drive within sight of the Merck Street home where the shooting took place.
Wojeck said it was still daylight shortly after 8 p.m. when she heard five shots ring out in steady succession.
Wojeck said there were numerous neighbors outside enjoying the spring weather when the shooting occurred.
“When I heard the first two shots, I thought, ‘What idiot is out there shooting off fireworks?’ ” Wojeck recalled. “Then I realized it was gunfire.”
Wojeck said she could see the orange truck “peeling off” and “children and families scattering.”
“It was a shocking thing,” she said.
Testimony in the case continues. The jury of seven men and seven women, including alternates, is expected to hear Tepanca’s statement to investigators today.