Murder suspect Gearold Sotolongo sat in jail for six years and three months waiting for his jury trial, which appears is going to take a few days.
This morning, the second day of trial, Deputy District Attorneys Roger Rees and Jessica Watson called their next-to-last witness. The prosecution plans to call one more witness — the doctor who performed victim Roger Alan Yale’s autopsy — tomorrow morning. Then Sotolongo’s attorney Zack Curtis will present his defense and lawyers will make closing arguments.
Sotolongo is charged with stabbing the 30-year-old Yale in the heart on Feb. 13, 2016, in front of the Hoopa Mini-Mart. Today a mini-mart cashier, Travis Brown, became one of many witnesses to identify Sotolongo as Yale’s attacker.
Brown, under questioning by Watson, said he was looking out the large front window of the market when he saw and heard a group of people running by outside.
“They were really rowdy and loud,” Brown recalled. “They were all circling that one guy.” He later identified the guy as Yale.
After the group dispersed only Sotolongo remained, Brown said, and he saw Sotolongo (whom he knew as Roldo Pratt) lunge toward Yale.
“Roldo pushed at him or punched him,” Brown testified. He said Sotolongo made a fast, forward motion with his right arm.
Soon afterward, Yale appeared at the mini-mart door.
“The guy poked his head in and said he was wounded and he needed a paper towel,” Brown said. Yale died shortly afterward of a stab wound to the heart. He died in the back of an ambulance that had transported him to the Willow Creek air strip to be flown to a hospital.
The attack was captured by surveillance cameras, and several law enforcement officers watched the video and recognized Sotolongo as the aggressor. Another witness, Lila Van Pelt, was at the mini-mart and witnessed the entire episode. Van Pelt identified Sotolongo as well.
Defense attorney Curtis asked Brown if he recalled telling law enforcement officers that he also saw other people he knew that day. Brown said he can’t remember.
The prosecution is expected to wrap up its case tomorrow morning with the testimony of Dr. Mark Super, the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy.
Sotolongo was arrested by a Sheriff’s Office SWAT team on March 9, 2016, in a residence on Tish Tang Road. He was 25 at the time of his arrest and is now 31. Along with the 2016 murder case, Sotolongo has two 2019 cases charging him with destroying jail property.