A man accused of felony murder is in court for his Arizona jury trial this week. The state’s case against Victor Silva, 27, reads like a Bonnie and Clyde story involving multiple thefts, a long police chase, drive-by shootings and the death-by-cop of Silva’s newlywed wife Stephanie Hill in the Arizona desert.
The events at stake in the trial began early this year, according to prosecutor Karen Hobbs. In opening statements to a jury at La Paz Superior Court, Hobbs described Silva and Hill’s actions as “a crime spree” and the outcomes the result of a sequence of bad decisions.
After Silva and Hill were married, Hobbs told the jury that a burglary investigation in Fairfax, CA north of San Francisco named the pair as suspects. Among the items stolen were a Glock handgun and a customized Ruger rifle. Shortly thereafter, Hobbs alleges that the pair fled from a police officer after a traffic stop when the officer noticed a gun in the vehicle. In a physical struggle with cops, Silva is alleged to have shifted the vehicle into ‘Drive’, allowing the couple to speed away, dragging an officer for a short distance in the process.
Another burglary in the small town of Penngrove, CA was described to jurors, in which Silva and Hill are alleged to have entered a home armed, taking $1000 in cash, jewelry, prescription drugs and a red 1998 Lexus Coupe. According to a Bay Area CBS affiliate, Silva is named as a suspect in the murder of the occupant of that Penngrove home, an 84 year-old woman. But since that murder is a separate case in Sonoma County, CA, the jury in La Paz County is not being asked to consider it here in Arizona.
A few days later, on Saturday, February 28th, Hobbs told the jury that Silva and Hill were tracked to Dillon Road in Coachella, CA, where law enforcement agents attempted to make a traffic stop. When the pair were asked to show their hands, Silva allegedly showed his left hand before retracting it and speeding off in the black Chevrolet Tahoe they were in. Up to 6 law enforcement vehicles and a police helicopter then gave chase eastbound on I-10 at speeds of up to 130 miles per hour.
Hobbs accuses Silva of conspiring with Hill to shoot at other vehicles on I-10 during the chase, saying that the pair had decided to shoot at their tires in the hope that they could overturn the vehicles and block law enforcement. She cited eyewitness evidence that Hill was leaning outside the vehicle firing shots, some of which were successful, though she said nobody was hurt.
Spike strips were deployed twice, the first of which took out two of the suspect vehicle’s tires, and the second which took out the other two after the Tahoe had travelled across the state line near Ehrenberg, AZ. The vehicle came to rest near the highway and the two suspects allegedly fled into the desert, Silva first, followed by Hill. Hobbs says Silva outpaced Hill, getting further away from her and ending up hiding behind a bush some distance away. Agencies from both states followed the pair into the desert area, shouting at them in orders to surrender.
Officers’ body cameras apparently show Silva eventually surrendering to cops, who arrested him and took him into custody. Hill was cornered by a Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy who says that he saw her pull a gun from the cargo pocket of her pants. The deputy shot at Hill 11 times, striking her 6 times and killing her on the scene. Hobbs says the handgun was a Glock.
Silva is charged with her murder under Arizona’s ‘felony murder rule’, which states that if someone gets shot and killed by police while the suspect is in the commission of a felony and the shooting is due to their reckless behavior, they can be charged for their murder. Hobbs says authorities found a customized Ruger rifle in the car.
Silva’s attorney Robin Puchek told the jury that his client’s testimony is that he was under duress for the duration of the police chase, and that when the couple were stopped by cops in Coachella, Silva had decided to give up but Hill had him at gunpoint and ordered him to drive. Silva’s defense is that he was not a willing participant in the chase and therefore was not ultimately responsible for the chain of events that led to Hill’s death.
“There are 37 witnesses in this case, and none of them will testify that they saw Silva with his hand on a gun,” Puchek stated. “Silva never fired a weapon.”
Puchek went on to say that Hill’s toxicology report showed that she had high levels of methamphetamine and marijuana in her system. He also pointed to Silva’s behavior once the vehicle came to a stop, suggesting that he was not running away from the police but was running away from Hill.
The state would have to prove that Hill was killed in the course of Silva’s flight from police, Puchek added, saying that police records show Silva had been arrested for 22 seconds before Hill was shot and killed.
The defense also includes the allegation that the deputy who shot Hill used excessive force, with Puchek saying that the shots to her torso were supplemented with a final shot to her head. He added that the gun was found under the small of her back, rather than near her hand.
Victor Silva’s trial is expected to last the remainder of this week and all of next week, ending sometime around December 18th. Other charges include multiple counts of theft, conspiracy to commit drive-by shooting and conspiracy to hinder prosecution. Silva is expected to testify in his own defense. There are 16 jurors from La Paz County in total, including 4 possible alternate jurors. Judge Samuel Vederman presides.
First story HERE.