A number of questions still loom in the minds of the loved ones of Joshua Switalski, the 22-year-old Tucson resident who was shot and killed in Oro Valley last year during a traffic altercation.
One of those is how the 12-person jury found suspect David Mota not guilty last Thursday after a four-day trial at the Pima County Superior Court.
The jury’s decision backed the argument of defense attorney Natasha Wrae, who said Mota was in fear for his life when Switalski verbally confronted him after a near traffic collision, after which Mota fired two rounds from a .45 caliber pistol. One of those rounds struck and killed Switalski.
Mota was found not guilty on counts of first degree murder, drive by shooting, aggravated assault, and a lesser charge of disorderly conduct. One juror told some of the victim’s family members that the decision to find Mota not guilty was based on Arizona’s “Stand Your Ground Law,” which allows a person to use deadly force in the instance of a potential life threat.
The prosecution attempted to show that Switalski only used words in the altercation, never had a weapon, and was driving away from Mota at the time the shots were fired.
Like Switalski’s family members, the prosecution appeared stunned when Judge Casey McGinley read not guilty on all counts. For members of the Switalski family, it was the continuation of a year-long nightmare.
“It was like he died all over again,” said Switalski’s mother, Jeri. “David Mota got away with murder. I was so stunned. I couldn’t breathe.”
What’s worse, said Jeri, is the apparent lack of remorse Mota showed during and after the trial.
“Never once did we hear out of his mouth, ‘I’m sorry,’” said Jeri. “Josh was a goofy, fun-loving guy, and David Mota is a cold-blooded killer.”
During the trial, Wrae repeatedly referred to Switalski as being angry, Caucasian, and having a shaved head. Switalski’s mother said attempts to make him out to be a “skinhead” were both frustrating and untrue.
“He would do anything for anyone,” she said. “He was a loving guy, and he was made out to be a monster.”
“He was a family man,” added Switalski’s girlfriend, April Taylor, who was in the vehicle at the time of the shooting. “Family was everything to him.”
The defense also argued that it was possible Switalski had a gun at the time of the incident, insinuating Switalski’s girlfriend, April Taylor – who was in the vehicle at the time of the shooting – could have ditched it in the surrounding desert before police arrived.
“We didn’t have any guns in the house,” said Jeri. “We don’t believe in guns.”
Taylor was at home ill with the flu when the verdict was read last week. She was the first to testify in the case, which also saw testimony from a number of Oro Valley police officers, a medical examiner, and traffic scene reconstructionists.
She found out the verdict via text message.
“I think I died for a minute, and then I came to,” she said. “Having to have gone through this whole thing – to me, it feels like we should have never caught (Mota). It feels like it doesn’t matter. I feel like him not being caught would have been a hell of a lot easier than having to sit in front of 12 people, hearing myself go through that night again, and then have them say ‘You’re free to go.’ That’s a slap across the face to Josh’s memory.”
Taylor said the days following the trial have been difficult to handle.
“Somebody who cared about everyone first, and himself last, got killed for no reason, and to have our justice for him taken away – it’s not right. I don’t know what those 12 people were thinking. What if it was their family member? What if it was their husband or son or cousin or uncle? How the hell would they feel? I wish for one second they could take a walk in our shoes. Have just a minute in our life to see what hell is, because you don’t know it until you have to live it.”
Switalski’s aunt, Robin Ramstack, said she is in the early stages of attempting to refine the state’s Stand Your Ground Law. She spoke with two of the jurors after the trial who said their decision of not guilty was based on self-defense from that very law.
“I don’t understand a justice system that states you only have to say you are afraid after you shoot and kill someone,” Ramstack wrote in an email. “I will continue my investigation and see who I have to contact to get the law refined as it stands now. Driver altercations happen daily and you just don’t know who may be ‘afraid’ and shoot you because your head is bald or you looked ‘angry.”
“He was somebody’s son, somebody’s love of their life, he was somebody’s brother, he was somebody’s nephew, he was somebody’s cousin, he was somebody’s uncle, he was somebody’s godfather, and he was a friend to so many known and unknown. He was loved deeply and will be greatly missed.”
Following the trial, Mota exited the courthouse with his family, while the Switalski party left moments later through a different exit. It may be the last time the Mota and the Switalski’s see each other, though Jeri said she welcomes an apology.
The next step for the Switalski family is to continue on in the healing process.
When asked what that will look like, Jeri said, “I don’t know. It’s in God’s hands. God has a plan for us.”
The Explorer has requested an interview with defense attorney Natasha Wrae as well as David Mota. For coverage of the trial leading to the verdict, visit explorernews.com.