The man who authorities first questioned in the murder of Robert Burke Simpson on April 15, 2010, at Arroyo Burro Beach is now a witness for the prosecution, and 23-year-old Rudy Gallegos took the stand Wednesday afternoon in the criminal trial against suspect Adrian Robles.
Robles, who was 20 years old at the time of his arrest, pleaded not guilty to counts of murder with special allegations and street terrorism. He is being represented by defense attorney Steve Balash.
Mesa resident Simpson, 44, was fatally stabbed after apparent arguments with the group including Gallegos, Robles and two women, Brittany Weiler and Vanessa Ochoa.
Both Gallegos and Robles have distinctive tattoos, including “WS” for the Westside gang on the backs of their heads, and witness statements led authorities to question them. Gallegos has a “P” — for Westside Projects, a clique of the Westside gang — on his left cheek, as well.
The getaway car, a white Nissan Altima, is owned by Weiler, and witnesses were able to describe the car and most of the license plate, Chief Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer said in his opening statements.
Gallegos testified that he and Robles were picked up by Weiler around noon that day. They bought some beer and went to Leadbetter Beach to hang out. They ran out of beer, bought more and went to Arroyo Burro Beach, also known as Hendry’s Beach, where Ochoa joined them, he said.
He was questioned on the stand for several hours by Dozer and is scheduled to continue his testimony Thursday for direct and cross examination.
Gallegos testified that he was at the beach with the other three in the grassy area when arguments near the bathrooms — two “old white guys” weren’t letting Robles out of the bathroom so the two women called for Gallegos to help — led to a physical fight between himself and Simpson.
Gallegos had gone over to “diffuse the situation,” but Simpson called him a “b****,” so Gallegos “cussed back at him,” he said.
The two agreed to fight — prompted by Simpson’s friend — and “we just swung at each other,” Gallegos said. Robles and Simpson’s friend came over to watch.
Gallegos’ blow connected with Simpson, which sent the older man stumbling back.
“The fence caught him, he rushed me and got me on my back,” Gallegos said. “He got up and he said that was it, so I got up and said ‘OK,’ and we shook hands and he went on his way.”
Dozer asked: “You were OK with the fact that you just lost a fight?”
“Yes, sir,” Gallegos said.
Dozer continued: “It wasn’t a big deal?”
“No, sir,” Gallegos said.
In opening statements, Dozer said the evidence will show that it was Gallegos who fought Simpson, but Robles who fatally stabbed him.
Gallegos testified that his crucifix necklace was broken in the fight and the cross itself lost somewhere in the grass. Authorities later found it in the area where the fight is said to have taken place, Dozer has said.
After the fight, Gallegos said he sat down to rest and saw Robles arguing with the same two white men, and then “saw Mr. Robles swing … like a straight jab.” The punch hit Simpson in the throat and he started bleeding, Gallegos said.
“And then (Robles and the two women) took off running, through the cars, through the parking lot,” Gallegos said.
He didn’t follow them, but started walking toward Cliff Drive, where he was picked up by the white car driven by Weiler.
“They just told me to get in, so I got in the car,” he testified.
Everyone was panicked, shocked and quiet. A few minutes later, Robles “lifted up his hand and showed me a knife,” Gallegos said. It wasn’t very big, and Gallegos said he didn’t know where it had come from. Gallegos asked to be let out of the car, and he called his mother to pick him up.
Authorities served a search warrant for his house and later arrested and interviewed him for about five hours, Dozer said.
In that interview, Gallegos lied for the first few hours, he said in court Wednesday.
When asked why, he said: “Just afraid, scared.” He also didn’t want to implicate his friend, Robles. “You’re not supposed to do that, you know, when you’re part of the neighborhood.”
There are consequences — “You could lose your life” — for doing so, but Gallegos changed his mind eventually, after “a little spiritual guidance,” he said.
His six-hour interview with the Sheriff’s Department will be shown in its entirety to the jury starting Thursday morning.