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Death penalty planned for Indio man who murdered witnesses

INDIO, CALIFORNIA – An Indio man who gunned down an 18-year-old crime witness was found guilty of first-degree murder and other charges Monday as jurors began deliberating the fate of his co-defendant.

A jury in Indio deliberated two days before finding 28-year-old Alexis Daniel Rosas guilty of the 2019 murder of Makayla Jean Massey, also known as Anita Garcia, of Victorville.

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In addition to murder, the panel also convicted Rosas of attempted murder, finding that special circumstances applied, namely killing a witness to a crime and lying in wait. The jury also found that there were sentencing enhancements for use of a firearm and aggravated assault.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jennifer Gerard did not immediately set the start of a sentencing phase in Rosas's trial, but postponed it until the separate jury deliberating the fate of co-defendant Maury Duarte returned with a decision.

Her jury deliberated behind closed doors on Monday morning and reached no verdict. Deliberations will continue on Tuesday at the Larson Justice Center.

Because Rosas may face the death penalty, the jury in his case will decide whether to recommend the death penalty or life in prison without parole, said Thalia Hayden of the Riverside County District Attorney's Office.

Duarte, 32, is accused of premeditated murder. Under special circumstances, he is also accused of killing and lying in wait for a witness to a crime.

She is being held on $1 million bail at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning, and Rosas is being held without bail at the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta.

According to a trial report from the prosecution, Massey's boyfriend, identified only as “Abram,” had been feuding for some time with Rosas, a documented member of an Indio street gang nicknamed “Trigger.” The conflict had led to the defendant allegedly harassing and assaulting the victim on multiple occasions.

On June 24, 2019, the argument led to Rosas allegedly walking to the abandoned house in the 45-400 block of Oasis Street where Abram and Massey lived and shooting him in the chest – an act the victim witnessed and described to Indio police immediately afterward.

Abram was hospitalized but eventually recovered from his non-life-threatening wound.

After the shooting, Massey checked into a Motel 6 in Indio, possibly to hide, but Rosas learned of her whereabouts and that she had contacted police, prompting him to plan her murder, prosecutors said.

He enlisted Duarte's help and they used her 2005 Toyota Camry to get around. In the early morning hours of June 25, 2019, Rosas went to the victim's motel room and persuaded her to come out. He then physically restrained her in the Toyota, which Duarte drove to an abandoned ranch in the 82-600 block of Avenue 53 in Thermal, court documents say.

When he arrived at the scene, Rosas pushed the frightened victim out of the car and ordered him to walk toward a gate.

“The defendant kicked her in the stomach, causing her to fall to the ground,” the complaint states. “Rosas then shot Makayla five times. One shot struck her head. After the second shot, he knew he had killed her, but he continued to shoot her body.”

He left the victim where he had been murdered and headed back to Indio with Duarte, leaving the .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol he had used to kill Massey on the side of the road, according to the indictment.

Massey's remains were discovered within days, leading to a sheriff's investigation that pointed to Rosas as the killer.

The defendants were arrested without incident on June 30, 2019 on Avenue 42 in Indio.
According to court records, both Rosas and Duarte were involved in retail fraud, but neither has a prior felony conviction in Riverside County.