Trial of accused 'City Hall shooter' begins
Witnesses in trial of Otto Emil Koloto reveal details of July 13, 2008, homicide
Two men — one the best friend of a man who was gunned down outside Palo Alto City Hall in July 2008 and the other a friend of the man accused of the fatal shooting — took the witness stand this week in Santa Clara County Superior Court.
It was the start of the trial of Otto Emil Koloto of Gilroy. He has been charged with the murder of 27-year-old Philip Lacy, with an enhancement for use of a firearm during the commission of a felony — robbing Lacy of his expensive jewelry.
Faramarz Maleki, who had been friends with Lacy since high school in Millbrae, said Monday that Lacy was enamored of the long, gold chain and heavy diamond-encrusted crucifix that played a central role in his death.
The flashy gold chain that prominently hung down to Lacy's abdomen was his "pride and joy," Maleki said.
Lacy wore the chain and cross every day. It was valued at between $5,000 and $10,000.
In the early morning hours of July 13, 2008, the chain also became the object of desire for accused killer Koloto, who allegedly approached Lacy and his friends at their parked gold Lexus on Bryant Street in Palo Alto after both parties returned from the Blue Chalk Cafe on Ramona Street.
"Cuz-o, you got a 'Port?" Maleki recalled Koloto asking, seeing the Newport cigarette Maleki had just lit.
Koloto walked around the car to where Lacy was sitting in the rear passenger seat with the car door open. Maleki handed the cigarette to Lacy to give to Koloto, he said.
Lacy placed the cigarette in Koloto's hand. Koloto allegedly pulled out a 9mm handgun from his waist band. He cocked the gun and, with his arm outstretched, held the gun at an angle, pointing it directly at Lacy's forehead.
"Gimme your chain, bitch," Maleki recalled Koloto saying.
Lacy did not react. Koloto repeated:
"It's a jack move, bitch. Gimme your chain, bitch," Koloto said.
Lacy looked over at Maleki and slowly shook his head. He proceeded to remove the chain from around his head and handed it to Koloto, Maleki said.
Suddenly Lacy lunged at Koloto, pointing his head at Koloto's chest. Maleki heard a scuffle.
"Phil flew at him like Superman ... like he was catapulted," Maleki said.
Lacy wrapped his arms around Koloto and appeared to push the gunman backward.
Koloto fired a single shot so close it made Maleki's ears ring, he said.
"I jumped in the air. I checked myself to see if I had been shot," he said.
"I heard a bang and saw Phil turn and drop on the ground. The gunman looked bewildered, like, 'What did I do?'" Maleki said.
Maleki identified Koloto in court as the shooter.
"The perpetrator's face is the same. It's as clear to me as it was that day," Maleki said.
Lacy was rushed to Stanford Hospital and later died after being removed from life support.
Both groups of men had been partying that Saturday prior to their ill-fated encounter in downtown Palo Alto.
Donald Lee, Koloto's friend, testified in court Wednesday that their day began around noon on July 12 at Koloto's house in Gilroy, where Koloto showed him a 9mm semi-automatic handgun. The friends then took off in Lee's white Toyota Yaris, stopping in San Jose to pick up ecstasy pills, bottles of Hennessy and a pack of Budweiser, before heading to a party at a home on Sparrow Court in East Palo Alto later that evening, Lee testified.
In the 45 minutes they spent at the house, Lee said he and Koloto mixed ecstasy and alcohol. At one point, he said he heard three or four gunshots fired but didn't know who was responsible.
By 1 a.m., they arrived in downtown Palo Alto, where they tried to get into the Blue Chalk Cafe but were turned away because it was closing. Lee said he later told police Koloto appeared "wasted."
Meanwhile, Lacy, Maleki and four friends started their night at The Glow bar in San Mateo then drove to Palo Alto.
The men parked in the underground parking structure under City Hall and took turns drinking from a $30 or $40 bottle of vodka, Maleki testified.
On questioning from Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Matt Braker, Maleki admitted he "did a couple of key shots of cocaine." He described a key shot as sticking a key into a bag of the white powder and putting it up one's nose, a common technique. The men then went to the Blue Chalk.
Lacy, at about 5 feet, 6 inches and 150 to 160 pounds, was standing outside the Blue Chalk in a brand-new white T-shirt, jeans and red-and-white Air Jordan shoes, Maleki recalled. The necklace hung down to his waist, prominently displayed, he said.
Koloto and Lee were standing nearby, but never entered the bar, Maleki recalled. Koloto wore a black knit cap, black hooded sweat shirt and had facial hair, long bushy hair and a distinctive long braid, Maleki said.
It was shortly thereafter, as both parties were leaving the area around 1:30 a.m., that Koloto allegedly fatally shot Lacy, prosecutors said.
As Lacy's friends reacted to the shooting, Koloto returned to Lee's car. Lee, who said he was unaware of what had taken place, testified that there was no change in Koloto's demeanor. Lee drove to a warehouse party in East Palo Alto, where someone said a murder had just occurred in Palo Alto.
Lee said when Koloto found out there had been a murder, his facial expression changed.
"His face dropped," Lee said. "He looked shocked."
Lee testified that while they were at the warehouse, Koloto had told him he "popped someone."
At around 4 a.m., they went to rest at Koloto's cousin's house in East Palo Alto.
Upon waking at 7 a.m., Lee said he saw Koloto getting his hair cut in the backyard. Koloto left the house at about 10 a.m.
As part of an extensive manhunt, Lee was arrested in Albuquerque, N.M., and initially charged with murder. The charge was later reduced to felony accessory, to which Lee pleaded no contest. He was sentenced to one year in prison in June 2009.
Koloto was arrested Oct. 2, 2008.
During opening statements Braker, the prosecutor, said a bullet casing found near Lacy's body matched a casing police found at the Sparrow Court home in East Palo Alto.
Braker claimed the casings and other circumstantial evidence shows Koloto killed Lacy.
Andrew Gutierrez, Koloto's attorney, made only brief opening remarks.
"In every case where there's a needless and senseless loss of life there's always a lot of sadness and tragedy," he said. But "this was not a random and opportunistic act of violence at 1:30 a.m."
Gutierrez urged the jury to keep an open mind. The defense was scheduled to start questioning its witnesses Thursday, after the Weekly's press deadline.
Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at email@example.com.