Jurors began deliberations Monday afternoon in the murder trial against Judah Trujillo, a teenager accused of fatally shooting 60-year-old Samuel Cordero at Ragle Park in the summer of 2022.
Trujillo, 17, is charged in the First Judicial District Court with first degree murder in the slaying that took place after the two allegedly arranged to meet for a sexual encounter. He took the stand earlier in the day to tell jurors he acted to protect himself after he changed his mind and wanted to get away from Cordero.
“It felt like my body was in self-defense and was acting sort of on its own,” Trujillo said. “I was not intending to hurt him.”
Trujillo testified that Cordero sent him a message through LGBTQ+ dating application Grindr the afternoon Aug. 10, 2022. Trujillo, who used the profile name “Eli,” said he connected with Cordero, who used the name, “LookingToSuck,” and the conversation became sexual before Cordero offered to meet, prompting Trujillo to provide his mother’s address on Camino Capitan.
Trujillo, who was 15 at the time, said he had falsely claimed he was 18 to get around the app’s age restrictions and that he used the app to explore his sexuality “without his friends or family knowing.”
“I didn’t know how they would take it if I came out as bisexual,” he said.
Early in the morning of Aug. 11, when Cordero finished his shift as a caretaker at MorningStar Assisted Living around 2 am, Trujillo says the two exchanged messages again, and Trujillo informed Cordero the pair could no longer meet at his house because his sister and mother were there. That’s when he says Cordero suggested meeting at nearby Ragle Park.
Trujillo said in the eight times he previously met with men from the app for oral sex, he had mostly done so in public places such as the Santa Fe Place Mall restrooms and always brought a weapon with him for his safety—mostly pocket knives. But that night, he testified, he didn’t have a knife and instead chose to carry a firearm he found earlier that week inside the house.
He testified he knew “nothing” about guns before carrying the firearm that night, and added he looked up a video tutorial on how to unlock it.
Trujillo then recounted meeting the man who “seemed taller than 6 feet” and “had a lot of weight on him” at a park bench. Cordero proposed going to the field dugouts to perform the sexual act, but things took a different turn when Trujillo refused to move, he said.
“You could definitely see a change in his face and his demeanor,” Trujillo said. “I didn’t think I was going to make it home that night.”
Trujillo testified Cordero grabbed his arm twice—the second time with even more force than the first. Then, the teen smacked the man’s arm away as Cordero appeared to reach for the teen’s neck. That’s when he alleges Cordero struck him on the left side of his jaw, causing him to stumble to the right. As he did, Trujillo said he took the .9mm Smith and Wesson out of his jacket and shot over his left shoulder without looking at Cordero.
“I didn’t even know if I had hit him,” Trujillo said during his testimony.
Evidence shows the bullet entered the back of Cordero’s head before exiting through his forehead.
During closing statements, Jeanine Salustri, assistant district attorney for the First Judicial District, said the teen’s alleged over-the-shoulder aim resulted in “an amazingly unlucky shot for Cordero.”
“This is no doubt a difficult case. We have a young kid being charged with the most serious of crimes: first-degree murder. You heard from Mr. Trujillo this morning. He admits to being in the park, and he admits to firing the shot. The only thing left to decide is if he did this deliberately. As hard as it may be to believe and as shocking as it is, the defendant did intend to kill Mr. Cordero, and it is first-degree murder,” Salustri said. “Mr. Cordero did nothing to deserve what happened to him that night, and it is because of the decision of the defendant that he has been taken from his family and his friends.”
Investigators said earlier in the trial they connected Trujillo to Cordero’s murder by using cellphone data that placed both parties at the crime scene, as well as surveillance videos that demonstrate an audible gunshot and show Trujillo return to the house after the incident. Furthermore, investigators linked the bullet casing at the scene to the gun found at the home and also recovered Cordero’s phone.
The same surveillance footage that showed Trujillo entering his home through the garage later shows him leaving shortly after 3 am alongside his mother and sister with what appeared to be Cordero’s phone in a plastic bag.
During cross examination, Trujillo said Cordero’s phone dropped to the ground after the shooting and he grabbed it before he ran away and did not look back. Trujillo also faces charges of tampering with evidence, as he testified he later threw the phone out of a car window as his mother drove along Rodeo Road.
Police arrested Trujillo on Sept. 28. His mother, Rachel Martinez, also faces charges for tampering with evidence and conspiracy to tamper with evidence. Prosecutors allege she helped her son dump the phone following the encounter.
Defense Attorney Jerry Archuleta said prosecutors did not demonstrate Trujillo intended to kill Cordero, a factor necessary to justify a first-degree murder charge. He asked jurors to instead return a verdict of voluntary manslaughter charge with “sufficient provocation.”
“What happened is horrific, and we’ve sat here and we’ve heard these labels ‘Sam Cordero is a victim, and Judah is our suspect.’ That’s not true; Samuel Cordero was the aggressor. Nobody here today, not even Judah, is happy Cordero is dead. But let’s not mistake what caused it: his actions,” Archuleta said. “When looking at the evidence presented, Judah’s story is the only one that makes sense…If Sam put Judah in a state of mind of fear, that was the only action Judah could do because he was trying to preserve his own life…[Judah] might sit here as a suspect, but he is a victim. No one wants to go through what he had to go through. And as he sits here today, he’s also a survivor.”
The jury deliberated from approximately 1:30 pm to 5 pm and plans to return at 8:30 am tomorrow for further deliberation. Trujillo has been prosecuted as a “serious youthful offender,” which means he could be sentenced to adult prison time, but a judge would have some discretion in sentencing guidelines for a first-degree guilty verdict that otherwise call for 30 years to life.