Anthony Wayne Smith, shown in 1994, played professional football for the… (Steve Dykes / Los Angeles…)
Anthony Wayne Smith, a former defensive end for the Oakland Raiders, lured a Lancaster mechanic to a remote stretch of desert highway and together with two accomplices murdered the man, prosecutors told a jury Monday at the Antelope Valley Courthouse.
Smith, 44, who played professional football with the Los Angeles and Oakland Raiders between 1991 and 1998, is charged with the October 2008 murder of 31-year-old Maurilio Ponce. Also charged are Charles Eric Honest, 42, of Los Angeles and Dewann Wesley White, 33, of Bloomington. Smith and Honest are being tried simultaneously by separate juries. White is scheduled to go to trial Monday, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
Ponce "was beaten, stomped and shot six times … twice in the head," Deputy Dist. Atty. Taly Peretz told the jury during opening statements. "Maurilio Ponce was executed and left dying there on the pavement."
Peretz did not indicate a clear motive for the murder, but during pretrial discussions with the jury absent, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Carlos A. Chung referred to the case as "a business-deal-gone-wrong kind of killing."
According to Peretz, about 11 p.m. on Oct. 6, 2008, Ponce received a call on his cellphone from Smith. Ponce's wife, Evangelina, heard her husband say "Hello, Tony" before he retreated to another room to speak in private, Peretz said.
The phone call prompted Ponce to get dressed and leave the house. This wasn't unusual because Ponce was a diesel mechanic who often assisted semi-truck drivers in need of service, Peretz said. What was odd was that Ponce didn't don his typical work wear of a T-shirt and Dickies pants; instead, he put on jeans and a sweater. And instead of using one of his two work pickups, Ponce asked to borrow his wife's SUV.
That same night, Smith and his accomplices had headed to northern Los Angeles County "to carry out a stolen goods cargo job or to carry out a murderous intent," Peretz said. Either way, their jaunt ended with Ponce's death, Peretz said.
Ponce's body was found in the early hours of Oct. 7, dumped on East Avenue I near 110th Street West, less than six miles from his home. Cellphone records put Smith and Honest near the scene, prosecutors said. Investigators found Ponce's car, cellphone and other belongings in the parking garage of Smith's Marina del Rey condo, they said.
Smith offered detectives 10 versions of how the items got there before admitting that he had intended to meet Ponce on the night of Ponce's death, Peretz said. Smith said that he and Ponce were involved in smuggling stolen cargo and that Ponce had promised to give Smith $10,000 to move some goods that night.
Honest told investigators he had gone to the Antelope Valley intending to move a load of stolen tires. But then Smith told him the arrangement was off, Peretz said.
In their opening statements, defense attorneys for Smith and Honest denied their clients were involved in Ponce's murder. They said the prosecution's case was based on theory, not fact, and questioned prosecutors' reliance on cellphone records.
"There is no evidence of Anthony Smith being at the scene of the homicide ... not even that he was near there," said Smith's lawyer, Michael S. Evans. "There will be no evidence of a fingerprint, a palm print, a footprint of Mr. Smith at that crime scene. There will be no DNA."
Thomas Gordon, Honest's lawyer, told jurors that the gun used to kill Ponce was never recovered and that there were no witnesses to the crime. Further, video surveillance footage that prosecutors claimed to have implicated his client was destroyed, Gordon said.
"Basically, the people's case is based on Mr. Honest's cellphone, and that's where we get to the end of the facts," Gordon said.
Testimony in the case is scheduled to begin Tuesday.