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Murder trial nears an end

By AMY LINDBLOM

Tuolumne County District Attorney Donald Segerstrom concluded his case Thursday against three homeless men he says brutally murdered a 44-year-old Sonora man in February 2001.

During closing arguments, Segerstrom showed jurors graphic photos of Michael Gilligan with his throat slashed, his left eye cut, his face beaten with several teeth knocked out.

Also seeing the photos were the victim's brother and sister, who sat in court with tears running down their faces.

For Gilligan's family, the trial that began three weeks ago has been tough to sit through.

"I'm just happy the jury now sees the whole picture, how all the evidence put together shows what happened," said Susan Garber, the victim's sister from Texas.

Defense attorneys for Michael "Little Mike" Davies, Robert "Bobby" Wright and Edward "Ziggy" Mendez were to present their closing arguments today. Jurors will then decide whether the three defendants are guilty of first-degree murder as charged.

The panel may also consider lesser charges of second-degree murder, or voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.

According to evidence and witnesses Segerstrom has presented, Davies, Wright and Mendez — all Sonora area transients who are self-described drunks, drug abusers and panhandlers — killed the man they once called a friend.

In his final arguments, Segerstrom told the jury's eight women and four men that Gilligan was killed on Feb. 27, 2001, at his South Poplar Street apartment in a fight between five drunken men — the three defendants, the victim and another man who is not on trial.

Before the fight and beating, Segerstrom contends, the men had been drinking 40-ounce bottles of beer and smoking cigarettes at Gilligan's apartment on a cold February night.

When the beer ran out and Gilligan, who was weak and frail after spending four months in a hospital with a lung ailment, asked the drunken men to leave, things turned ugly, Segerstrom said.

At the time, Mendez lived in a tent and Davies lived under a Stockton Road bridge. Wright, just released from jail the day before the murder, lived with his girlfriend at a North Washington Street apartment.

"But they don't want to leave, it is cold outside, so they start fighting," Segerstrom said. "Bobby Wright is a very violent guy who can go off when he is drinking. He went off that night. They all went off. They kicked him (Gilligan) ‘til he is laying there bleeding to death."

The four men left but then returned to make sure Gilligan was dead because "dead men tell no tales," Segerstrom told jurors.

During the trial, experts from the state Department of Justice testified that Davies' blood, fingerprints and skin were found in the apartment. Wright's blood was on a couch and doorway, they had testified. The knife used to slash Gilligan's throat has never been found.

Each defendant has also testified.

All claimed that they were at Gilligan's apartment, but never went inside because Gilligan wasn't home and they left after drinking on the porch.

Davies said he later returned and saw Gilligan on the floor. He said he broke through the window to check on his friend and cut his hand, but didn't call police because he "would have had to explain the situation, and I don't like police," Davies testified.

However, police officers testified that on Feb. 28, when Davies was questioned, he said he didn't know anything about the murder, and cut his hand three days earlier.

During closing arguments, Segerstrom said Davies tried too hard to explain all the physical evidence against him.

"His testimony was unreasonable," Segerstrom said. "It was a story. There was a script, and he was coached. Davies wielded the knife but they all helped.

"They are all guilty of first-degree murder of Michael Gilligan."

Defense attorney Michael Carbonaro, who represents Wright, said outside the courtroom Thursday that all the facts of the case can be interpreted in various ways and lead to other conclusions, too.

"Segerstrom did an excellent job of weaving the evidence into his story, but he didn't do a perfect job," Carbonaro said.


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