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Rockdale trial begins in execution-style murder

Humberto Lorenzo-Diaz

Humberto Lorenzo-Diaz

CONYERS -- A Rockdale County jury heard prosecutors Tuesday describe how 20-year-old Raul Ramirez crossed the wrong people, leading to his death in 2009 with 24 bullets and his body left on the roadside as a message to his family.

Humberto Lorenzo-Diaz, 32, of Atlanta, is accused of murdering Ramirez, whose body was found in a wooded area just off Lake Capri Road on March 5, 2009. Ramirez was found with multiple gunshot wounds to his head and chest and several other bullets and casings around his body.

There are allegations of the murder being gang-related with drugs involved. One state witness is in custody by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and another is in the Gwinnett County Jail.

Also, court security has been heightened with the Main Street entrance closed. People wishing to enter Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation's courtroom are screened twice by metal detectors.

During opening statements at Lorenzo-Diaz's trial Tuesday, state prosecutors Miguel Dominguez and Paul Stalcup described a story of kidnapping, federal informants, jail house confessions and a man known only as "Lalo," who won't appear during the trial but plays a key part in the case.

Ramirez got caught up in a feud between Lorenzo-Diaz and Lalo, for whom Ramirez worked, Dominguez said. The result was that Ramirez was kidnapped from Gwinnett County and held for ransom.

"As the feud was occurring between the defendant and Lalo, our victim was kidnapped, a ransom was demanded in exchange for his life, and when that ransom was not paid he was shot and murdered in Rockdale County," Dominguez said. "He was left on Lake Capri Road so that a message would be sent to his family."

Prosecutors said they will bring witnesses and interviews of those who said they knew about Ramirez's kidnapping and murder and who place Lorenzo-Diaz at the scene. Among those is a man identified as Lalo's driver. Two of Lorenzo-Diaz's cell mates will also be called on to recount conversations they had at the Rockdale County Jail.

The 9-mm handgun allegedly used in the murder was presented to jurors Tuesday. Prosecutors said they connected the gun with Lorenzo-Diaz from a domestic violence shooting in Chamblee in which authorities there said he was involved. Evidence presented by investigators included 9-mm and .20-caliber bullets and shell casings found at the crime scene.

Mark Issa and Ash Joshi, Lorenzo-Diaz's defense attorneys, argued that none of the state's witnesses can say they were there at the time of Ramirez's death and that "the devil is in the details."

The defense said they will attempt to bring doubt to witnesses' testimony and question whether Lalo even exists. Issa said in opening statements that he and Joshi plan to zero in on lapses in the story told by Lalo's driver concerning Ramirez's kidnapping.

He also told jurors that the jail inmates were interested being able to bond out of jail in exchange for their testimony.

"Listen to the details," Issa said in his opening statements. "Listen to the stories and ask yourself as jurors whether or not these witnesses have a reason to tell the stories they are telling."