By Eric J. Trochez
SACRAMENTO – When a man drove to a local park in the middle of the night to meet his “Tinder” date earlier this year, he got a little more than he bargained for when he was allegedly robbed not just by his “date,” but by two gun-toting men who later beat him.
The victim, however, set up the suspects the next night, who were arrested.
On Jan. 19, 2020, Mondolayo Benjamin Lane, Ezekiel Moore and Emily Leadford all allegedly participated in a robbery. What was seemingly supposed to be a “Tinder” date quickly turned into an armed robbery.
The victim, after attempting to retaliate, was met with assault by fists and pistol. The suspects fled the scene, but were arrested the next day.
On Thursday (11/19), a preliminary hearing for defendants Lane and Moore was held before Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Tami R. Bogert. Deputy District Attorney Brandon Jack was the prosecutor, James Clark Head represented Lane and Jessica Graves represented Moore.
Jack asked to enhance and amend the charges because of the nature of the crime and the details provided from the witness and victim testimonies.
The amended charges for the two defendants included,armed robbery to the second degree, assault with a semi-automatic firearm, and carrying a concealed weapon within a vehicle. Lane was charged
Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeffrey Ilaga testified that when he arrived at Rosemont Community Park he observed the victim in a fearful, emotional state, with bleeding from his head.
Ilaga explained that the victim told him that he me with a female (Leadford) and that they made contact through Tinder and arranged plans to meet at the park at that time.
Ilaga said the victim claimed Leadford was waiting in the vehicle when the victim entered through the passenger seat. Shortly after, the victim stated there was a knock on the passenger window. Ilaga says the victim saw two black male adults, Lane and Moore, one with a handgun.
The knocking was from a handgun. The victim stated that the two males then ordered him to get out of the car. Afterwards, they demanded his wallet, money, and other items.
The two males told the victim “Don’t be a hero. Don’t do anything stupid.”
Ilaga said that Leadford also made demands, snatching his cell phone. He was told to throw his keys away.
After the robbery was finished and the suspects were leaving the scene, the victim demanded they return his phone. Leadford threw the phone on the ground and walked away.
After the phone was “returned,” Ilaga said the victim said he lunged at the suspects. He went for the one holding the gun. Lane and Moore responded by beating him with their fists and with the gun, causing the victim to suffer a head injury.
The suspects then fled the scene in their vehicle. The victim was able to provide descriptions of the suspects, the getaway vehicle and a partial license place.
Defense attorney was able to uncover some new details in her cross examination, specifically identifications.
Ilaga said the victim felt that he would confidently be able to identify the suspects, but Graves then corrects him. Referring to the report, Graves states that the victim said he would be able to confidently identify Lane, but less confident about identifying Leadford and Moore.
Graves quizzed the deputy: “One of the suspects told the victim to empty his pockets. Did you ask which one?” Ilaga said he didn’t. “Did you ask which one told him ‘Don’t be a white boy hero?’” Ilaga did not.
Graves then asks, “So of the many statements that was made you never bothered to clarify who made them? He gave pretty detailed statements. However you didn’t ask specifically who gave these orders?”
Ilaga states he did not.
Ilaga notes that the victim said the gun was never pointed at him.
Defense counsel Head asks Ilaga if the victim mentioned anything about facial tattoos, patterns on the defendant’s pants, and if one of the suspects was wearing a medical boot. Ilaga said he did not ask.
Deputy Troy Mahon took the stand, and explained how he was responded to the victim’s self-investigation on Jan. 20, just one day after the robbery that occurred the night before. Upon arrival, Mahon saw the suspect vehicle and saw two people in the car.
He identifies the passenger as Lane and driver as Moore. He is then asked to point out the two defendants in the courtroom. Mahon admits he isn’t able to identify the two defendants with certainty.
Mahon said he searched the defendants and he found a live bullet casing on Lane.
Deputy John Guibord. also was dispatched to the Travelodge Hotel on Jan. 20, and recalls observing the vehicle and detaining the three suspects. He was then asked to point out the defendants via Zoom. He identifies them as those he detained that day.
Guibord searched the suspects and their vehicle. He found a semi-automatic handgun with 9 bullets of ammunition. His partner had found the victim’s wallet and belongings from the robbery the night before.
When asked, Guibord confirms the victim described the gun looking like a black BB gun, noting
Lane grabbed the gun from Moore and became more aggressive, demanding the money.
After the robbery, the deputy said the victim told him he woke up the next day and created a new Tinder account to contact Leadford. Through Tinder, he was able to set up a meet up with Leadford once more, her being unaware it was the victim. When he found them, he called the police.
Attorney Graves inquires about why the victim believed Leadford wanted money for sex. Guibord says the victim inferred this from the texts, but it was never explicitly stated.
When Graves insisted on asking very specific questions, Guibord clarified he didn’t ask the victim to make an exceptionally detailed report because of the statement made the night prior.
Head begins his cross, inquiring about the hotel room the defendants were staying at. Guibord stated that he didn’t personally conduct that search. Head then redirects his questioning towards the victim’s testimony of the robbery.
“As they started walking away and the victim walked towards the guy with the gun, the guy (Lane) got more scared correct?” Guibord confirms. “That made him think the gun was not real, right?” Guibord says yes.
Head then asks about the pant pattern, face tattoos, and medical boot. Guibord vaguely recalls a medical boot, but not much else.
Jack asks to submit three pieces of evidence. The first was an AFS document of the firearm with a serial number and the other two were rapsheets of the two defendants.
At close, Graves asks that Moore not be held to answer to the charges because, she said, no identification established and the only officer that did identify him misidentified Moore as Lane.
Graves also argued the two statements from the victim had conflicting details, leading to inconsistency in the story. The first story states he couldn’t clearly see Moore, but the next day says he could confidently identify. The victim also stated only Moore had the gun, but in the next story had it taken away from him.
Graves insisted that it’s more appropriate to change the charge to an arming enhancement charge rather than a personal use charge. Head joins in on the identification issue, using the details of the medical boot and facial tattoos to support his argument.
Jack does acknowledge the misidentification made by deputy Guibord. However, he says that the arrest occurred in January. The officer stated that that may impede his ability to properly recollect who was who.
As for the personal use charge, the victim stated that Moore tapped on the window with the handgun. While it was taken away from him, Moore still brandished the weapon.
During the in field show ups, the victim identified Lane as the suspect who held the gun the most, corroborating Guibord’s statement.
Graves disagrees. In the statement made with Ilaga, the victim never made the distinction that Moore also held the gun or that both held the gun at one point or another.
He then provides conflicting information the next day. Graves states he couldn’t give a cohesive statement, insisting, “If he’s even remotely to be believed in this situation, which I don’t think he should. The tapping of the handgun is merely a tap on the window and does not rise to the level of personal use enhancement. Would merely be arming,”
Judge Bogert says “If this were a trial, the court certainly would’ve found that the people have not met their burden today. But this is not a trial. It’s a preliminary hearing and the standard of proof is very low…The court orders them to be held to answer to each and all.”
Both defendants enter “not guilty” pleas and denials.
The Trial Readiness Conference is set for Jan. 6, 2021 at 1:35 p.m. in Dept. 61. The trial is set for Jan. 11, 2021 at 8:45 a.m. in Dept. 9.
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