SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Two men accused in the death of a teenager who was run over by a car during a drug-related robbery in Rancho Bernardo were ordered Friday to stand trial on murder and robbery charges.
Angel Ramirez, 20, and Homer Earl Gibbs, 21, are charged in the March 7, 2019, death of a 16-year-old boy identified in court only as Christian H.
Prosecutors allege the defendants stole the victim's money in front of his Cresta Drive home and, in the process of fleeing the scene, ran over the boy's head with their vehicle.
According to Deputy District Attorney Christina Eastman, the victim had sought to purchase $100 worth of drugs from the defendants, who drove to the teen's home. When the youth handed his money to Ramirez, who was sitting in the backseat, the car sped away, she alleged.
Eastman said the victim hung onto the open rear car window and Ramirez allegedly punched him in the face and pried his fingers from the car window, causing him to fall into the street, where he was run over by the vehicle, she said.
The death was initially investigated as a traffic accident, though Snapchat messages discovered on the victim's phone indicated he had sought to purchase drugs shortly before he was killed, according to preliminary hearing testimony.
A co-defendant -- 21-year-old Joshua Benjamin -- was initially arrested along with Ramirez last year and charged with murder and robbery because Benjamin had been mistakenly identified as the driver of the vehicle. But according to preliminary hearing testimony, further investigation revealed that Gibbs was actually behind the wheel, while Benjamin was allegedly in the backseat of the car.
Gibbs was arrested and charged earlier this year.
Benjamin is currently out of custody and has petitioned a higher court to review his case, suspending criminal proceedings pending the outcome of that review.
Defense attorneys for both Ramirez and Gibbs say their clients should not be held liable for the fatality due to recent changes to California's felony murder rule, which placed limits on which participants of a crime can face murder charges. The felony murder rule holds a person liable for murder if a death occurs in the course of committing a felony.
Ramirez's attorney, Shannon Sebeckis, argued that Gibbs, rather than her client, was the primary cause of the teen's death as the driver of the vehicle. Gibbs' attorney, Brian Funk, argued that Christian's grabbing onto the door was a development no one could have reasonably foreseen and claimed that the amended felony murder law was intended to prevent cases like this, which he said raise a misdemeanor petty theft up to a murder.