Trial begins for 2 in bizarre murder case in Sunnyside area

Monday, July 21, 2014

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Details of a bizarre murder case in the Sunnyside area unfolded in a Fresno County courtroom on Monday, and the details are especially chilling.

Marcos Gonzales and Richard Escalon are now on trial for the death of Christopher Zuniga in 2011. The defendants claim the victim is a hardcore meth user who came at them and they acted in self-defense, but what prosecutors described on Monday was brutal and horrific.

Prosecutors say Zuniga was confronted in the basement of a gated, upscale home on Butler near Minnewawa by Escalon and Gonzales. What happened next, ended with Zuniga dead.

"Christopher was sitting down when they confronted him and that's when Mr. Gonzales, who had a baseball bat, swung the baseball bat hitting Christopher in the head; hit him hard enough it fractured his skull and knocked him down," said Deputy District Attorney Sam Dalesandro.

The attorney representing Escalon said inmates in prison feared Zuniga for his tough reputation on the streets and so did Escalon.

"Richard is standing there scared out of their wits," said Gerald Schwab, Escalon's attorney. "This is 'Wee Wee' we're talking about. The next thing you know, Christopher starts to get the best of Mark, and then turns to Richard."

"You are going to hear all this, not in order for you to think that Mr. Zuniga was some bad guy, but because it goes to the elements necessary for the prosecution to prove in this case. It goes to self-defense," said Linden Lindahl, Gonzales' attorney.

The prosecutor told jurors that after Zuniga was killed, Escalon dumped scalding hot water over his body to make sure he was dead. The suspects are then accused of loading his body into his own truck and hauling it to an orchard near Sanger, where it was set on fire.

The court was shown a picture of Zuniga alive and another graphic and disturbing picture of his skeletal charred remains.

After the murder, investigators say Escalon and Gonzales took several of the witnesses as hostages and made them rip out the carpet in the basement and disinfect the home. Several of these witnesses are expected to take the stand, and also at least one of the defendants.