Murder trial opening: Trail of evidence leads to defendant

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A high-profile murder trial started Monday with testimony from the teenagers who were with Nick Kauls on the night he was shot.

Danger drove up to Kauls outside his friend's home in an SUV.

"A male got out of that SUV," said prosecutor Deborah Miller. "He pointed a gun at the boys and said 'Give me everything you've got.'"

17-year-old Nick and his friend both turned and ran back to the house.

Gunfire rang out. Nick was hit.

His friends dragged him into the house and called 911.

"I was screaming to somebody on the phone that he was shot," said Isabella Prieto. "He was shot in the head."

Investigators believe Joseph Espinoza shot Kauls in the middle of a robbery spree where he tried to raise bail money for his friend, Jose Figueroa.

But Espinoza's defense attorney says the evidence is flimsy.

"There are numerous criminal charges here," defense attorney Ralph Torres told the jury. "And when you hear all the evidence, you will find that the evidence is insufficient."

Nick's friend couldn't identify Espinoza as the man who held them up. He said it was too dark.

Witnesses gave different descriptions of the SUV involved in the shooting.

Statements from victims of the robbery spree also muddied the description.

But investigators latched onto a common thread.

Multiple witnesses said it had paper plates.

That led them to a stolen Toyota Highlander Espinoza was driving.

Prosecutors also heard what they consider an admission in Espinoza's phone calls to his friend in jail.

"On June 25, 2018, Jaso - the defendant - was heard saying to Jose Figueroa 'Hey man, I caught a body last night,'" the prodecutor Miller said.

Espinoza faces life in prison without parole if he's convicted on all the charges.

The trial is expected to last a couple months.
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