WEST CHESTER >> A Common Pleas Court jury on Friday acquitted two brothers of a stabbing at a New Garden party that had overtones of gang-related tensions, concluding a five-day-long trial that featured dueling accounts of who initiated the violence at a child’s party.
The panel of eight women and four men deliberated just under five hours before returning the verdict in Judge Anthony Sarcione’s courtroom, finding the two men not guilty charges of attempted homicide, felony aggravated assault, simple assault and related charges
The jury, however, found one of the men guilty on charges that he used a handgun he possessed illegally to threaten bystanders at the party, crimes he had admitted to by saying he needed to protect himself from an angry group of rival gang members.
The case involved an Oct. 5 fight outside a New Garden banquet hall that left one man — 29-year-old Javier “Puto” Bedolla of Wilmington, Del., with stab wounds in his abdomen and back, injuries the prosecution said were life-threatening. Authorities said the two brothers — Guillermo Renteria-Enciso, 27, and Emmanuel Renteria, 26, both of Oxford — had initiated the confrontation after they were asked to leave a baptismal party held for the 3-year-old daughter of a New Garden couple, Angel and Maria Duran.
The allegations were that Renteria-Enciso, known by the nickname “Terrorist,” had pulled a handgun outside the hall at Gold Better Center in New Garden and fired several rounds at a crowd of people in the parking lot. Meanwhile, Renteria, nicknamed “Criminal,” got into a punching match with Bedolla, and stabbed him multiple times with a knife.
They were both arrested in the days after the confrontation.
But defense attorneys for the two men, admittedly part of a Latino street gang called the Surenos-13 that has a presence in southern Chester County and northern Delaware, countered that in fact the girl’s father, Angel Duran, had started the fight after the men left the party peacefully with two others. The men were simply trying to defend themselves in the ruckus, attorneys contended.
The fight, the defense suggested, came because of tension between two rival divisions of the Surenos — one from Pennsylvania, represented by the two brothers, and one from Wilmington, Del., which included friends of Angel Duran, who admitted to being part of the Surenos gang some years ago.
Neither man testified in his own defense.
On Friday in her closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Bonnie Cox-Shaw, who on Tuesday told the jurors that the case was a simple one of the two brothers attacking Duran and Bedolla without provocation, disputed the defense attorneys version of events that the jury apparently accepted.
She said that the brothers, who were not invited to attend the party, had come anyway with two other men, and had been at some point been asked to leave with their friends because they were creating “tension” among the other guests, partially because someone was flashing gang signs.
“Angel did not want any trouble out of these guys,” Cox-Shaw said, referring to Renteria-Enciso and Renteria. “He just wanted these two guys to leave his party.” The celebration was being held as a way of presenting the Durans’ daughter to the community, and featured food, drinks and music. Cox-Shaw suggested the last thing Angel Duran would want to do in that moment was to start a fight that would end the party he had paid hundreds of dollars to organize.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” the prosecutor said of the notion that Angel Duran would start a fight at the event. “He had trouble brought to his door, the polar opposite of what he had intended to happen. This case is about two guys who did not like the way they were asked to leave a party, and they responded with a gun and a knife.”
Cox-Shaw pointedly asked the jury to wonder why Renteria-Enciso would have admittedly brought a gun to the party, and his brother a knife, if they were not looking for a confrontation. “You are going there looking for trouble,” she said of the brothers’ intentions. “The tension that was at this party was created by the very presence of these two guys.”
But Assistant Public Defender Peter Jurs, who represented Renteria, stressed in his closing that his client had no reason for attacking Bedolla, and that Angel Duran had brought the fight on himself. Jurs argued that wounds that the victim suffered most likely came from others who had, ironically, been trying to attack his client.
“This incident happened because Angel and ‘Puto’ went looking for a fight,” Jurs told the panel. “They jumped on Mr. Renteria.” He pointed to testimony from witnesses who said that as many 15 men had gathered around his client in the parking lot, yelling at them. “These guys were drunk, going crazy, trying to beat him up.”
Jurs cited a lack of corroboration for Duran’s testimony about who started the fight, and added that the prosecution had not produced a witness who saw his client wield a weapon.
“Nobody saw him take out a knife,” Jurs said of Renteria. “No one saw him hold a knife, and no one saw his discard a knife. So who did it? Well, we are never going to know.”
Jurs also questioned the credibility of Angel Duran, who testified through a court interpreter for several hours on Wednesday. The defense attorney noted that Duran is in the United States illegally, and did not go to the police about the attack for several months afterward because he was afraid of deportation. Jurs also suggested that Duran did not testify truthfully about what he did after the stabbing — saying he went straight home when his wife had already testified that he did not come home until he following day.
In his closing, Renteria-Enciso’s attorney, Matthew Vassil of West Chester, acknowledged to the jury that his client had pulled a gun out and fired several shots that night. But he insisted that his client’s reaction was a matter of self-defense, confronted with a group of Angel Duran’s confederates.
“Facing real threats from so many men, he made the only decision he could,” Vassil said of his client. “The only decision he could have made to get out of there safely.”
Despite contradictory versions of what started the fight, Vassil said that one thing remained clear. “What is undisputed is that (Renteria-Enciso) did not shoot anyone. It was done to keep these 10 to 15 people away, to stop them in their tracks. Everyone says those shots were not fired at anyone.
“The only reason he fired that gun was to make sure everything stopped,” Vassil told the jurors. “That was his intent that night.”
Vassil, too, laid the blame for the melee at Angel Duran’s feet, and pointed to a Facebook profile Duran had posted that showed him flashing gang signs and making threatening comments.
“Angel Duran is not a person who tried to avoid trouble; he is a person who is right in the middle of trouble,” the local defense attorney said. “He caused a fight that needed gunshots to end it.”
The issue of gang-related violence was kept to a minimum in the trial by Sarcione, although the defense admitted that their clients were gang members. Cox-Shaw told the jurors that the gang issue was used as a distraction to the real matter of who instigated the fight and caused the injuries to Bedolla, although she had attempted to introduce testimony by Chester County Detective Joseph Nangle, a former New Garden police officer, about his knowledge of the brothers’ gang affiliations.
Sarcione, however, did not permit his testimony on that subject.
Both men are still being held in Chester County Prison pending further court action. Renteria-Enciso was found guilty of weapons charges and recklessly endangering another person, and will be sentenced later on those charges. Renteria is being held on probation violations.
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan, call 610-696-1544.