After less than an hour of deliberation, the jury reached its verdict in the Nicholas Colletta murder trial Friday at San Fernando Superior Court.
However, an unexpected turn of events led Judge Cynthia L. Ulfig to hold off on releasing the decision until Monday.
Closing arguments by the defense and then prosecution wrapped up Friday in the trial of the man who stands accused of murdering Ivan Solis in what prosecutors alleged was a premeditated, gang-related shooting July 11, 2017.
However, when the courthouse was given a recess at approximately 3:20 p.m. while it awaited the jury’s deliberation, Colletta’s public defender, Jerome Bradford, apparently left the courthouse, not anticipating a verdict so quickly.
“I can not explain….,” said Ulfig, referring to the untimely absence of the defense attorney.
She then announced the jury’s verdict would remain sealed over the weekend, as Bradford was unable to return to the courthouse.
In what Bradford called a “fascinating case” at the beginning of his closing arguments, the defense worked Friday to question the credibility of the witnesses and the investigators involved in the case.
“Colletta has been plagued not only by his girlfriend Jaqueline Arreola, but by the detectives involved in this case, as well,” said Bradford.
Bradford argued that the state’s “star witness,” Arreola, 26, only testified in open court that her boyfriend at the time, Colletta, was the person who shot Solis, so she could “get out of prison.”
“Her testimony was manufactured and tailor-made,” said Bradford. “The defense’s ‘star witness’… is a pathological liar and is cold-blooded.”
The evidence that the jury should use during its deliberation, according to Bradford, was the fact that Arreola “continually” changed her story, demonstrating her “lack of credibility entirely.” Bradford told jurors she changed her story after being arrested and offered a plea deal, and that she couldn’t accurately identify the height of the victim, or Colletta’s head tattoo.
“She testified that Mr. Solis is 5 foot tall,” but there was testimony confirming that “Solis was 5 foot, 11 inches.”
“They said the shooter’s head was shaved, but no one testified to (the shooter) having a visible head tattoo,” Bradford said.
Bradford also said the detectives who investigated the case failed to follow protocol by not asking witnesses to identify the suspect from a lineup or with photos of similar looking suspects.
Just before 5 a.m. on the morning of the shooting, Colletta and Arreola, 26, walked a path in the Begonias Lane Park, when they saw Ivan Solis, a member of the rival gang Newhall 13, standing with a group of people, Deputy District Attorney Adan Montalban told the jury during his closing remarks.
“Colletta walked up to Ivan, asked him where he was from, to which the victim puffed up his chest and said, ‘Newhall,’” said Montalban.
It was at this point, Solis then fled, running behind a park bathroom with the suspect in pursuit.
“He begged for his life,” said Montalban. “(Solis) saw the gun and turned his head.”
On Colletta’s first pull of the trigger, the gun jammed, forcing him to have to clear the chamber of the live round, according to the prosecution. After clearing the firearm, he then proceeded to shoot Solis seven times: twice in the head, twice in the upper torso, twice in the lower torso and once in the right forearm.
The prosecution laid out evidence that they say demonstrated that the bullet casings from a shooting a few days before the Begonias Lane Park incident — which detectives reportedly traced back to Colletta — matched the shell casings of the bullets used by the man who shot Solis to death. Montalban said detectives also found cellphone records showing Colletta’s phone was in the park at the approximate time of the murder.
However, the most damning evidence, Montalban said, was the calls placed by Colletta while he was knowingly being recorded in prison.
On the taped phone calls, Colletta can be heard saying, before the prosecution’s evidence was presented earlier this year, that he knew that the only witnesses were “drug addicted witnesses,” to which Montalban asked the jury, “How did he know who were witnesses?”
“This is not ‘circumstantial’ evidence… this is called ‘overwhelming’ evidence,” said Montalban at the end of his concluding argument. “This evidence proves that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The case is scheduled to reconvene at 9 a.m. Monday, at which point Judge Ulfig is expected to unseal the jury’s verdict.