BARSTOW • The last of three defendants in the slaying of a San Bernardino hiphop artist whose body was dumped near Barstow took the stand in the Barstow courthouse Friday to declare his innocence.
Dudzai Prosper Pswatai, 21, of Riverside faces charges of murder, kidnapping, robbery and solicitation to commit murder in the June 2008 killing of Robert Mastrangelo, a 24-year-old hiphop performer whose body was found in in a drainage ditch near Outlet Center Drive in June of 2008, bound and shot multiple times.
Pswatai testified Friday that he lied to detectives at the bidding of higher-ups in his Crip-affiliated gang, the Southside Maniac Mob, when he made statements incriminating himself during an interview after his arrest in July of 2008.
Det. Keith Libby said that during the interview Pswatai admitted to being present when Mastrangelo was tied up and beaten and also admitted that he had assisted in tying the victim's legs. Pswatai denied being at the scene when the victim was shot, however, Libby said.
"He wanted me to snitch, and I can't do that, so I incriminated myself," Pswatai said in court. "... I was lying to Detective Libby the whole interview."
Pswatai's public defender, Troy Padgett, said after the hearing that the gang directed his client to lie because of an internal gang code, but did not give specifics.
Two other defendants in the case accepted plea deals and testified against Pswatai. Jeffrey "Slutter" Berrouet, 23, pleaded guilty to murder in February. He had fled the law for eight months before being caught trying to cross the United States/Mexico border Feb. 14. Celina Sanchez, 20, Berrouet's former girlfriend, pleaded guilty to kidnapping.
Prosecutors said the defendants kidnapped Mastrangelo with the object of robbing him after setting up a phony drug deal. They allegedly held him in the garage of Sanchez' Riverside-area home, where Berrouet also lived, where they tied and beat him. Libby said it is still unclear whether Mastrangelo was shot in the garage or at another location.
Deputy District Attorney Shannon Faherty said Berrouet, Sanchez, and Sanchez' roommate all testified that Pswatai was at Sanchez' house on June 11, 2008, the day that Mastrangelo is believed to have been killed. Berrouet also testified to seeing Pswatai pistol whip Mastrangelo.
In the courtroom, Pswatai denied being at Sanchez' home on the day of the kidnapping and said he had been out on the street dealing drugs that day.
During the interview with Libby, Pswatai gave the caliber of the bullets likely used to shoot Mastrangelo, which turned out to be accurate, Faherty said. Police also found a necklace belonging to Mastrangelo in the same corner of Sanchez' garage where Pswatai had told detectives the victim was tied up. Pswatai said in court that Sanchez put the necklace there later.
Pswatai's appearance on the stand concluded the testimony in the case. The attorneys are scheduled to give their closing arguments Wednesday morning.
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