Trial nears end for man suspected of killing clubgoer

A jury could begin deliberating as soon as today in the murder trial of Gerry Phongboupha, a 25-year-old man accused of firing into a crowd gathered outside a Dogpatch-area nightclub.

Six people were hit by gunfire from a .40-caliber handgun outside Café Cocomo on March 21, 2005. Justin “Boo Boo” Mendoza, a 21-year-old break dancing fan, was killed as he walked to his car, police said.

The club, located at 650 Indiana St., had closed at 2 a.m. and about 100 people were outside listening to music from a truck’s sound system, according to police. Several groups started to “face off,” shouting out a variety of Bay Area cities.

In all the madness, Phongboupha pulled out a gun and shot indiscriminately into the crowd, according to prosecutors. Richmond police would later arrest him for driving on a suspended license. Once in Contra Costa county jail, authorities recorded several telephone conversations that Assistant District Attorney Robert Wade called “chilling.”

Phongboupha told his friends and family that he thought he killed somebody and to get rid of the clothes he was wearing that night.

Two of the people shot that night, an uncle and a friend of Phongboupha, were called to testify during the trial, which started about three weeks ago. At least one of the men was at times combative with Wade during testimony, repeatedly claiming he couldn’t remember what happened that night.

The defendant’s attorney, Joseph O’Sullivan, said in opening statements that he agreed that Mendoza was an “innocent victim” who did nothing wrong that night, but that his client wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger.

There was a lot tension the night of the incident among the clubgoers because of race and which high schools, neighborhoods or Bay Area cities they came from, O’Sullivan said. In the craziness that ensued, he said, nobody witnessed who pulled out the gun, not even one of the five surviving victims.

Witness accounts are based on clothing descriptions, and police were never able to produce the clothing as evidence, he added.

bbegin@examiner.com

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