On what would have been Dylan Newman's 22nd birthday, his parents sat in a Jefferson County courtroom as two Lakewood men went on trial in the slaying of their son.
Aaron Zamora and his older brother Adam are both charged with first-degree murder and aggravated robbery in the April 3, 2007, slaying of Newman. Two other men charged in the slaying, Jeffrey S. Depault and Eric Rooney, have already pleaded guilty and are expected to testify for the prosecution.
Prosecutors allege the Zamoras conspired with Depault and Rooney to rob Newman of more than $11,000 in cash during a purported marijuana deal in a South Jeffco home.
Defense attorneys for the Zamoras, who are being tried together, allege that Depault planned the robbery without telling the brothers, who then had to defend themselves against an intoxicated Newman, who had a knife.
"On April 3, 2007, that gentleman at the end of the table, Adam Zamora, shot and killed Dylan Newman," Deputy District Attorney Steve Jensen said July 10.
Jensen told jurors that the Zamora brothers and Depault agreed to sell Newman 3 pounds of marijuana, when actually they never had the marijuana and planned to rob him.
Jensen laid out the state's version of how the deal was arranged, and then how it all went bad in the garage of a home on West Morraine Place. Jensen said Newman arrived with the cash and a long knife, which was visible in the side pocket of his pants.
The home chosen for the transaction was that of Eric Rooney's grandmother, who was not home at the time. When Newman walked in, Rooney and Depault and two of Rooney's friends, both minors, were waiting for him. The Zamoras arrived shortly after Newman.
Jensen said Newman wanted to see the marijuana, but Adam Zamora pulled a handgun and demanded Newman's cash. A struggle between the two ensued, and Newman was shot in the neck and died minutes later. Everyone except Rooney fled the garage after Adam Zamora grabbed Newman's knife and cash, Jensen said.
Aaron Zamora, Depault, Rooney and the two others in the garage that day were arrested later that night. Adam Zamora was arrested six days later in Aurora after a short pursuit by Aurora police and Jeffco authorities.
Jensen said Adam Zamora's girlfriend at the time told investigators he was broke before the murder and then "flush with cash" afterward.
"He went from flat broke April 2 to having a couple thousand dollars the next day," Jensen said.
When he was arrested, Adam was found with a letter he allegedly wrote in which he confessed to killing a man, saying the only just thing for him would be death or to be "caged like an animal," Jensen said.
One of Aaron Zamora's defense attorneys, Amber St. Clair, told the jury that he is innocent, and that the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and the Jeffco DA's office had built their case around "four overprivileged potheads," referring to Depault, Rooney and Rooney's two friends.
St. Clair said Depault had ambitions of running a large-scale drug "empire." Depault had been planning to rob Newman for weeks before the murder, she said, and when Newman called and asked to buy 3 pounds of marijuana, it created the perfect opportunity.
Depault may also have planned to rob the Zamoras and Newman that day, St. Clair said, but he settled for robbing Newman. An arrangement had been worked out in which the Zamoras would each get $3,500, Depault would get $3,000, and Rooney would get $500 for the use of the garage, she said.
St. Clair said the Zamoras walked into a situation in which they were outnumbered five to two, and they didn't know anyone there except Depault. Aaron Zamora didn't know his brother had a gun, and thought they were going there for a simple drug deal, St. Clair said.
"Aaron was frozen and all of a sudden sees his brother in a struggle with Dylan, and a gun in Adam's hand," St. Clair said.
She also reminded the jury that even though the Zamoras are being tried together — an issue heavily debated prior to the trial — the two would have to be treated separately by the jury, and that Adam Zamora's actions should not reflect on his younger brother.
Kristan Wheeler, one of Adam Zamora's defense attorneys, told the jury that Adam is not guilty of murder or robbery, and was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed Newman.
"Adam Zamora is not guilty," Wheeler said. "On April 3, 2007, Adam Zamora went to do a drug deal. He went to do a drug deal and walked into the middle of Jeffrey Depault's plan."
Wheeler, like St. Clair before her, described a scenario in which the Zamora brothers walked into a drug deal in an unfamiliar house, and were outnumbered by unfamiliar people. As the garage door closed, it went from being bright to dim, and the two brothers didn't know what was going to happen, she said. Adam Zamora had brought the gun for protection because, as a drug dealer, he had been robbed in the past, Wheeler said. He got especially nervous when he saw the knife sticking out of Newman's side pocket.
"Dylan went for the knife, Adam went for the gun, there's a struggle and the gun went off," Wheeler said. She said that after everyone fled the house, Rooney called 911 and lied, saying that he had returned home from the store and found a random person bleeding to death in his home.
"He's lying repeatedly to 911, and he's watching Dylan die," Wheeler said.
Wheeler said the prosecution’s case depends on testimony by two defendants who entered pleas to avoid life sentences.
"The people's case consists of snitch testimony," Wheeler said. She explained that when "everything went wrong," Depault, Rooney and his two friends "blamed the Zamoras."
Depault pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and aggravated robbery, and will face a mandatory sentence of 26 to 48 years in prison. Rooney pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and faces a mandatory 16 to 48 years in prison. Both will be sentenced after the two-week trial. The two minors in the garage at the time of the slaying were initially charged, but all charges were dropped based on their cooperation.