Trial wraps up for man accused of killing cab driver 

Jurors heard closing arguments Tuesday in the San Mateo County Superior Court trial of a man accused of fatally shooting a taxi driver in Redwood City early on a Saturday morning in 2003.

Lousa Mataele, 37, is charged with murder, attempted murder and attempted robbery for the Sept. 13, 2003, shooting death of taxi driver Davinder Singh, 21, and for allegedly shooting and trying to rob Jaime Torres, an acquaintance of Mataele's who was also in the taxi.

Mataele was found incompetent to stand trial in 2005 and was placed at Napa State Hospital. But in April 2008, the California Department of Mental Health found that his competency had been restored and a judge reinstated criminal proceedings.

Defense attorney Gerrit Rutgers has said that his client doesn't remember what happened in the taxi that morning.

Prosecutor Joe Cannon began his closing argument this morning by telling jurors that criminals come "in all shapes and sizes."
He said that while some have complex plans in carrying out their crimes, others don't -- but they are "absolutely" all criminals.

The prosecutor then labeled Mataele as a "wimpy gun collector," someone who was carrying a loaded gun in his backpack the night of Singh's death and waiting for the right moment to kill him.

Cannon said Mataele was "a common thug" who had been in and out of jail and had committed at least one robbery.

"On Sept. 13, Lousa Mataele was just another thug who'd been drinking," Cannon said.

The murder occurred shortly after 3 a.m. that day. The previous night, Mataele and Torres, 23, were drinking together at a Redwood City bar, according to Cannon.

After leaving the bar, Torres and Mataele went to the home of a friend of Torres where they spent the next hour. The friend eventually called a taxi for Torres and told Mataele he had to leave too.

The taxi that picked up Mataele and Torres was Singh's.

Torres told Singh to take him to another bar near his home. As Singh made a right turn from El Camino Real onto Oak Avenue, Mataele pulled a gun out of his backpack, pointed it at Singh and told him to put his hands in the air, Cannon said.

One shot was fired -- a warning shot, according to Cannon -- and Singh reached back and grabbed the barrel of the gun. That's when Mataele fired two shots into the back of Singh's head, killing him, Cannon said. The taxi, which was still moving when Singh was shot, crashed into a parked car.

Cannon said Mataele then turned the gun on Torres and demanded his cell phone and gold teeth, the only items of value he had on him.

As he tried to escape the taxi, Mataele fired the gun at him, causing a graze wound, Cannon said.

Mataele then allegedly walked from the taxi to a nearby bus stop, where police found him 15 minutes later with the gun prosecutors say was used to shoot Singh and Torres. He was promptly arrested.

Rutgers asked jurors Tuesday to approach their deliberations with an open mind, and to not lose sight of what their task is.

"Your job is to not come from a place of vengeance or from a place of fear, but to follow the law," Rutgers said. "If the case has not been proved to your satisfaction, you must find the defendant not guilty."

During his opening statement, Rutgers said Mataele is not a murderer and that he wasn't trying to rob anyone the night of the shooting.

Closing arguments were expected to be completed Tuesday afternoon, followed by jury instructions. Mataele remains in custody without bail.

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