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Trial Opens in Killing of Lottery Winner

March 01, 2000|TRACY WILSON

Two years ago, 24-year-old Robert Bankston of Moorpark was living the good life after purchasing a winning lottery ticket for his mother and making her a millionaire.

Flush from those winnings, Bankston quit work and bought an RV to cruise the California coast with his buddies.

They were partying hard after a concert at the Ventura fairgrounds the night of July 28, 1998, when Bankston's good life came to an abrupt and violent end.

That night, an attacker stabbed Bankston and his friend, Joe Morgan, after a dispute over a 4-inch-long stem of a psychedelic mushroom. Bankston bled to death on a midtown street.

"His blood literally poured out of him and he died in the arms of a stranger," Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox told a jury Tuesday during opening statements in the trial of Bankston's accused killers.

Fox told Ventura County Superior Court jurors that evidence to be presented at trial will prove 20-year-old Robert Imes of Ventura repeatedly plunged a pocketknife with a 3 1/2-inch blade into Bankston.

Imes' friend and co-defendant, 21-year-old Vincent Ryan Gatica of Ventura, kicked Bankston and held him down during the stabbing, the prosecutor said.

Fox told jurors that at the end of the trial she would ask them to find both men guilty of murder.

"The evidence will show they acted together," Fox said. "They are directly responsible for the death of this young man."

Imes' attorney declined to give an opening statement Tuesday, reserving the right to make one after the prosecution rests its case.

But Gatica's lawyer, David Callahan, told jurors in his opening remarks that his client did not aid a murder.

"Ryan Gatica did not help Robbie Imes stab anybody," he said. "His actions were entirely in self-defense."

Callahan told jurors that Gatica rushed to help Imes after seeing him in a scuffle with two men, but did not know Imes had a knife until he was stabbed inadvertently in the arm by his friend.

Callahan said Gatica, who has known Imes since the seventh grade, would take the stand to tell his version of what happened.

Imes is charged with murder in the slaying of Bankston and attempted murder in the stabbing of Morgan, who fled the scene and stumbled barefoot to a nearby convenience store for help.

Gatica is charged with murder under the theory that he assisted in the attack.

Both men face life prison sentences if convicted. The trial before Judge Herbert Curtis is expected to last about three weeks.

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