Five days after it began, the trial of a Fountain Valley man and woman and a Santa Ana man accused of conspiring and attempting to kill the woman's husband resumed Tuesday morning with opening statements from the defense and testimony from four witnesses.
Michael Calvin Shores II, 40, and Mary Katheryn Sharpski, 48, of Fountain Valley, and Antonio Cinco Ortega, 25, of Santa Ana, are charged with plotting to kill Sharpski's husband, Frank, known to friends and family as Rick, in March 2009. As part of the alleged conspiracy with Shores and Sharpski, Ortega is accused of attacking Sharpski's husband with a machete in an alley outside of the victim’s home and leaving him to die the morning of March 3, 2009, fracturing the victim’s skull, severing a thumb and fingers, partly severing his nose and causing several other machete wounds.
In stark contrast to prosecutor Lynda Fernandez's opening statements last Thursday, which sought to tie the three defendants together as family and define each's specific role in the planning and execution of attack, the three defense attorneys each sought to distance their clients from the others and from any role in the attack.
Ortega's attorney, Derek Bercher, told the jury he was "privileged to represent" Ortega, who he characterized as the son as two school teachers who lived at home, worked a steady job, was an avid roller skater, and who, in general, had his own life separate from the domestic turmoil surrounding Sharpski and Shores.
But Bercher went a step further, hinging his defense on the claim that the attack on Rick Sharpski was committed by someone not in the courtroom. He told the jurors that no witness would ever identify Orgtega as the attacker, that they'd hear about a burgundy car at the scene rather than the green Nissan driven by Ortega, and about the as-yet-unidentified man known only as "John" or "Johnny," who had allegedly offered to kill Rick Sharpski after Mary Sharpski said she wished him dead in a moment of frustration.
Bercher also outlined what, he said, are similarities between the Sharpskis' daughter, Ashley, and Ortega's former girlfriend, April Bivens, both key witnesses for the prosecution. Bercher portrayed both Ashley Sharpski and Bivens as having said Ortega was not involved in the attack until pressed by police and threatened with implication in the attack, and pointed out that both had been granted immunity from prosecution in the attack.
He went a step further with Bivens, painting her as a heavy drug user who kept nearly every detail of her life in a journal, yet who, he says, mentioned nothing of any plot by Ortega in that journal even thought she eventually told police he'd been discussing it for a year prior. He told the jury Bivens' diary mentioned nothing of the attack, and that it would prove Ortega had been at home at the time of the attack after having sex and sleeping with her the night before at his parents' house. He also told the jury that Bivens, after agreeing to become a police informant, had provided police with the machete believed to be the weapon used in the attack after police had conducted a thorough search of Ortega's bedroom and found nothing.
Shores' attorney, Deputy Public Defender Lisa Eyanson, described her client to jurors as "a poor, unfortunate man who knows both of these indivduals," telling them that Shores was nothing more than one of the people who happens to connect Mary Sharpski to Ortega. She maintained that the relationship between Shores and Sharpski was platonic, with Shores serving as a source of comfort for Sharpski, and Sharpski providing Shores the family he always wanted.
Eyanson asked the jury to focus on Shores' intent when they hear about several conversations in which Shores and Sharpski are alleged to have talked about killing Rick Sharpski, conversations, Eyanson said, should be viewed in the context of various abusive episodes involving Rick Sharpski and his family.
Sharpski's attorney, Joel Garson, sought to give the jury more context on the Sharpski family dynamic, describing his client as a woman at her "wit's end" as the result of years of abuse at the hands of her husband. He described in detail incidents in which Rick Sharpski reportedly threatened one of his daughters with a shard of broken window glass, and another in which he held a broom handle to his son's throat.
Like Eyanson, Garson maintained that the statements from Sharpski and Shores about wanting Rick Sharpski dead were never intended to be taken literally.
The most compelling testimony of the day came from Bree Pendley, who testified that, while awaiting arrignment on a petty theft charge in a holding area at the Westminster Justice Center on April 7, 2009, Mary Sharpski told her she had hired a hitman to kill her husband.
"Everybody was really surprised when she said why she was there," Pendley said.
Pendley went on to testify that Sharpski provided numerous details about her marriage, its abusive nature, and about the attack, including comments previously mentioned by Fernandez in her opening statement about how Rick Sharpski would no longer be able to use his middle finger to make obscene gestures at his children because it had been severed in the attack.
During Garson's cross-examination, it was revealed that Pendley was also facing drug charges that day, and she admitted that she was coming down from methamphetamine during her conversation with Sharpski. She also admitted that she was approached by Fountain Valley police detectives after her release in April of 2009 about testifying against Sharpski, but that she refused unless she was offered something in return.
Pendley broke down when Garson's cross-examination moved to March of this year, when Pendley was facing three more charges and the potential loss of her children at the North Justice Center in Fullerton. One of the charges involved another petty theft in which she was arrested with the father of her children, who, she said, was abusive and had forced her to steal vodka from a grocery store. Pendley told Garson she was approached by Fernandez that day in court, and that, after she agreed, Fernandez assumed the prosecution of her pending court cases and recommended 30 days of house arrest in lieu of the 90 days jail time she was facing. Pendley insisted that she hasn't been promised anything in return for her testimony.
"I wanted justice for this man who was attacked," she said. "I would love if if somebody could get me out of the mess I'm in. But I've done what I've done. I've lived the life I've lived. I'm taking my life into my own hands."