Two men have been sentenced to death in 2017 for stabbing a Camp Pendleton Marine during a fight at the Gaslamp Quarter that also left another Marine injured.
Jose Oscar Eskenda, 41, was found guilty of first-degree murder, while co-accused Jeff Sai Holiday, 28, was convicted of manslaughter at the death of the 21-year-old. Ryan Harris. Eskenda was also convicted of attempted murder for stabbing another Marine, Andrew Howlman, during a downtown altercation that led to Harris’s knife.
The accused were tested by two juries, each of which was assigned to decide the fate of a single defendant. The Esqueda jury returned verdicts on Monday, the result of which was sealed until the Holliday jury returned with its verdicts on Wednesday.
Eskenda was charged with stabbing both victims, while Holliday was charged with murder and assault for punching another Marine, which prosecutors say sparked a deadly hand-to-hand battle.
Deputy Attorney Christopher Lawson told jurors the defendants roamed the Gaslamp around 1 p.m. of December 29, 2017, looking for victims, a motif that he said appeared in a pair of would-be robberies involving men earlier in the year.
The prosecutor said the men asked the downtown area for a possible victim before settling on Christopher De Herrera, who was alone on the corner of Island and Sixth Avenues.
According to the surveillance footage, Eskenda and De Herrera exchanged conversations and then Holiday punched De Herrera in the head from behind. Four of De Herrera’s fellow Marines witnessed the clash and ran to intervene, leading to the stabbings of Harris and Haulman.
Defense attorneys said the altercation was sparked by De Herrera, who asked Escenda, “Where are you from?” a common gang provocation that typically precedes violence.
Esqueda’s lawyer, Zaki Zahawi, said the statement was perceived as a serious threat of possible violence, although Lawson claimed that the evidence did not show that De Herrera really said the words, nor that they would justify the quarrel that ensued.
As soon as the other Marines took part in the battle, Zahawi said that Esqueda tried to run, but was caught by Haulman, who started throwing punches.
The lawyer said Esqueda used the knife to legally defend himself. Harris was stabbed in the neck, while Howlman suffered injuries to his chest and back.
Along with the deadly knife, the men were convicted of robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery in two separate incidents that occurred in Pacific Beach and Chula Vista earlier that year. The couple was found guilty of stealing a bicycle from a couple in Pacific Beach on April 15 and chasing shoppers on April 29 at the Chula Vista Mall.
Lawson said their behavior in the incident reflected their wandering in the Gaslamp district in December, although Zawahi and Holliday’s lawyer, Abram Genser, said there was no evidence that the men were “on the hunt.” of the victims while walking in the city center.
The City News Service contributed to this article.
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