In a small courtroom on the fifth floor of the Hall of Justice, Jeff Rosen made the final arguments of his last trial as a hands-on prosecutor on Tuesday. With thin fingers, he karate-chopped the air like a symphony conductor cueing the string, brass and percussion sections, except the players here were three accused murderers. “The buyer, the middleman, the hit man,” he called them.
Rosen won’t engage in retail justice anymore when he takes wholesale control of the District Attorney’s office in January. It’s uncommon to witness an elected DA in a jurisdiction as big as Santa Clara County, the nation’s 17th biggest, actually practicing his craft. And it’s probably just as rare for a government attorney to plead his case to the jury box, then pack his briefcase and head directly to the corner office. His opponent Dolores Carr derisively characterized Rosen as “four levels below me,” just before he unseated her.
Relaxed and precise, Rosen introduced his thesis: ”Obsession. Control. Anger. Murder.” Rosen remained disciplined as he dissected the conspiracy, the evidence and points of law for the jury. He made spare use of theatrical flourishes or vocal acrobatics as he calmly moved through a Powerpoint presentation. The brutality of the crime spoke for itself when he showed pictures of former Los Gatos restaurateur and bar owner Mark Achilli’s blood-soaked body on the asphalt, then followed with autopsy shots of gunshot wounds in Achilli’s head, chest, arm and leg. Achilli’s widow began to cry. She dropped her face into her hands, sobbed some more and left the courtroom.
Accused mastermind Paul Garcia looked like an attorney in wire frame glasses, a crisp white collar rising above his tailored black suit. Garcia continuously scribbled on a lined yellow pad. Behind him, in the audience, his mother sat. From time to time she took notes with a purple eraser capped pencil and stared down spectators with her large brown eyes.
If the jury accepts Rosen’s pitch of “a love triangle that led to a murder for hire” and the evidence is convincing, he’ll secure his last conviction. His memories of poring through exhibits and making arguments will still be fresh when he transfers to the high-backed chair, without having dulled his combat skills in a judge’s robe or a middle management desk job, as is customary.
His meteoric rise and command of detail betray his intellect, but he communicates with disarming normalcy in street language to make points. Rosen quotes witness Ali Aminihohar’s recollection of Garcia saying Achilli “doesn’t know who he’s fucking with” and mentions a “late night booty call,” a “pissed off” girlfriend and an object of his affections who “blows him off.”
He projects images of Garcia’s lovelorn text messages to the girlfriend he shared with Achilli. “Come over and stay w/me…. call me—answer your phone….”
“She’s playing you,” Rosen advises the text messager. “Move on!”
The March 9 and 10, 2008 messages were followed by cash withdrawals, wired money the shooting of Achilli on March 14. Left behind was a trail of evidence that included DNA in a black LA Dodgers baseball cap, a bullet clip, printed directions from Burbank to the victim’s Los Gatos townhome and a torn page with Achilli’s photo from a Metro story on the web.
Rosen thanked the jury and rested his case. Mark Achilli’s ashes will soon find a resting place on the beach near the 17th hole at Pebble Beach, a friend of the late businessman said.