By Andy Furillo
The prosecutor concluded his opening statement in the Aaron Norman Dunn murder trial today with a phone message the defendant purportedly left for his estranged wife that portrayed him yelling "yee-haw" just moments after authorities said he shot and killed the first of his two victims in Elk Grove four years ago.
Sirens and gunshots punctuated the background while Lynrd Skynrd's hard-charging "Whiskey Rock and Roller" and the haunting "Simple Man" blared inside the white Toyota Cressida. It was that vehicle that Deputy District Attorney Scott Triplett said Dunn careened down Laguna Boulevard in his homicidal blast the night of March 25, 2006.
When his spree was over, television cameraman Johnie Ray Johnson, 46, and Xerox salesman Michael John Daly, 45, were shotgunned to death on evenings they spent at popular Elk Grove restaurants, Johnson with his wife and Daly with his wife and two children.
"The evidence in this case, ladies and gentlemen, is compelling," Triplett told the seven-man, five-woman Sacramento Superior Court jury. "There was no question what was done in this case and who did it."
Dunn, 33, is facing the death penalty if he is convicted and jurors return the capital punishment verdict in the penalty phase of his trial in front of Judge Michael W. Sweet.
Assistant Public Defender Amy Rogers conceded that Dunn shot and killed Johnson and Daly, but she said the case will be decided on her client's mental state, which she said was upended by heavy methamphetamine ingestion.
Rogers said she will try to prove that her client is only guilty of second-degree murder.
The defense lawyer said that Dunn had lived a fairly normal working man's life and that he was married and had a child. But Dunn began to unravel when his wife "became involved with two different men she met on the Internet," Rogers said.
According to Rogers, Dunn found it "devastating" when his wife moved out with their daughter, and it was then that he began to use methamphetamine.
"His life spun out of control," Rogers said, with the heavy drug use making him delusional to the point where "he snapped."
Rogers said she will present expert testimony that Dunn "suffered from a methamphetamine-induced psychotic state" and that he had "lost touch with reality."
Triplett said that Dunn tore off on a methamphetamine-laced shooting spree because he was upset over the impending break-up of his marriage. The prosecutor said Dunn's estranged wife, Sara Pack, is scheduled to testify in the case, but he told the jury "it's unlikely you'll like her."
According to Triplett, Pack visited Dunn in the Sacramento County Jail about five months after the shooting and that he told her about "his lack of mental problems, and how they were going to say it was the drugs" that caused him to commit the killings.
In evidence the prosecution likely will use to thwart a possible mental-incapacity defense Dunn's attorneys might use, Triplett said that Dunn also told Pack during their conversation that "I might have been a little over the edge, but I wasn't totally."
Beside the two murder counts, Dunn also is facing eight attempted murder charges, including six separate counts related to three attacks that prosecutors say he launched on Elk Grove police officers Trisha Smith and Janell Bestpitch. It was Smith and Bestpitch who finally stopped Dunn, authorities said, shooting and seriously wounding him after his final assault on them.
Triplett said that Dunn first shot Daly while the victim drove his family onto Laguna Boulevard from the parking lot of the Chili's restaurant at Bruceville Road, where they had just attended a birthday party.
The defendant then drove up on Smith and Bestpitch and shot through the rear window of their patrol car, Triplett said. Then Dunn continued eastbound on Laguna, where he crashed into a truck while leaning out of his car, holding his shotgun with hands and firing at a couple out on a date - blasts that the prosecutor said were caught on the phone message.
After the crash, Dunn got out of his car while gunshots and sirens were recorded on his phone, to the background music of Lynrd Skynrd, Triplett said. Then the defendant walked through the parking lot of a McDonald's fast-food restaurant at Laguna Boulevards at Laguna Springs Drive and circled back through the Mandango's parking lot where he came across Johnson and his wife, according to the prosecutor.
Triplett said the attack on Johnson was captured on a surveillance video.
"You will see the defendant walk into view, and you'll see what happens," Triplett told the jury. "The last words (Johnson's wife) heard from her husband were, 'Man, get that thing out of my face,' and the next thing (she) heard was a tremendous explosion, a point-blank shot to the face."
Witnesses said that after the shooting, Dunn left the parking lot in a "canter," Triplett said, "raising the shotgun in victory," while "there were pieces of John Johnson strewn about that parking area."
Smith and Bestpitch, meanwhile, had driven back to the site of the collision and finally dropped Dunn to the asphalt with their service revolvers, Triplett said, but not until the defendant left "a mountain of destruction" behind him in the early Elk Grove evening, according to the prosecutor.
Call The Bee's Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141.
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