OAKLAND (CBS SF) — A judge Monday ordered an Oakland man to stand trial on a murder charge with three special circumstances for the fatal shooting of Hayward police Sgt. Scott Lunger during an early morning traffic stop two years ago.
At the end of a preliminary hearing that spanned three days, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner said, “There’s very powerful evidence to support each and every charge” against 22-year-old Mark Estrada.
Now that Estrada has been ordered to stand trial, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office is expected to decide soon whether to seek the death penalty against him.
Lunger was shot near Myrtle and Lion streets in Hayward at about 3:15 a.m. on July 22, 2015, and was pronounced dead at Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley a short time later.
The special circumstance allegations against Estrada are for murder of a peace officer during the course of his duties, committing a murder while lying in wait and committing a murder by discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle.
Prosecutor John Brouhard played a recording in court Monday of a police dispatch of Lunger’s last words, in which he said over the police radio that he was stopping a white Chevrolet Silverado truck driven by Estrada because it was “swerving all over the road and almost hit a few cars.”
Hayward police Officer Justin Green testified that the truck driver fired at Lunger shortly after Lunger approached the truck.
Brouhard said the police dispatch recording is “chilling” because he believes it indicates that Estrada didn’t immediately stop his truck after Lunger flashed his warning lights but instead slowly drove to the end of Lion Street and took the time to “prepare and arm himself with a gun” so he could shoot Lunger when he approached.
“(Estrada) waits and watches for Sgt. Lunger to move into place where the defendant can be more successful with his plan to shoot and kill,” Brouhard said. “There was a period of waiting and watching that put Sgt. Lunger at a disadvantage.”
But Estrada’s attorney Christopher Morales said lying-in-wait cases usually involve a suspect who has a grudge against a person or a group and there’s no evidence that Estrada knew Lunger or had a grudge against police officers as a group.
Morales also said such cases normally involve a suspect who is waiting for a victim for “a substantial period of time.”
However, Horner said “even a short period of waiting” is sufficient for the lying-in-wait clause to apply.
Referring to the period between the time that Lunger flashed his warning lights at Estrada and the time that Lunger was shot, Horner said, “In terms of real life and every day law enforcement experiences, 68 seconds seems like a lifetime.”
Green testified that after the truck driver shot Lunger, Green fired multiple rounds into the truck but the suspect, later identified by police as Estrada, managed to drive away.
Hayward police investigators testified that the evidence indicates that Estrada abandoned his truck at 98th and Edes avenues in East Oakland and later walked into San Leandro Hospital to be treated for his gunshot wounds.
Authorities contacted Estrada at San Leandro Hospital but eventually moved him to Highland Hospital in Oakland to be treated for a gunshot wound to his left lower flank above his waist.
Estrada admitted to a doctor that he was shot while he was in the driver’s seat of his vehicle near A Street in Hayward but wouldn’t say who had shot him, police said.
When police searched the crime scene, they found a 9mm handgun, unexpended rounds and an associated magazine, according to testimony at Estrada’s hearing.
Officers testified that during a search of Estrada’s residence in the area of 107th Avenue and Beverly Street in East Oakland, they found 9mm ammunition, 9mm casings and surveillance video that showed three people arriving at the house at 4:48 a.m. on July 22, 2015, one of whom was limping.
They also said the suspect’s vehicle had bullet holes on the driver’s side consistent with the bullets that were fired by the officer who was with Lunger.
Estrada’s hearing was attended by Lunger’s family members, a large number of Hayward police officers and a large contingent of Estrada’s family members and friends.
Horner ordered Estrada to return to court on May 19 to have a trial date set.