Day 5 of the People v Carlos Zapata, Christopher Meagher and Elizabeth Bailey trial resumed Thursday with the prosecution’s witness Kenneth Cornelius.
Cornelius was a cook at the Market Street Blade & Barrel restaurant in Redding on May 4. That’s the night when his friend and fellow cook Nathan Pinkney was first doused with water by Zapata at the restaurant’s bar, then a short while later Pinkney was grabbed by Bailey, ripping Pinkney’s shirt in the process; and then Pinkney was punched in the face by Meagher, and finally Pinkney and a coworker were threatened with a hoisted CO2 canister by Meagher, all at the back of the restaurant.
Cornelius answered questions on the witness stand in an open and forthcoming manner, to the point of sometimes, on his quest for accuracy, Cornelius volunteered information that could cast Pinkney in a negative light. For example, Cornelius was frank in his assessment that Pinkney was so upset by Zapata’s drink episode that Cornelius said he had to physically restrain Pinkney from “doing something stupid” in the way of a confrontation of Zapata.
Cornelius recalled how May 4 was a slow night, so he’d anticipated the restaurant might start closing early. He observed a sharp contrast between the relaxed Nathan Pinkney who’d gone to the front of the restaurant to check whether the sparse number of guests meant they should start closing, compared with the suddenly infuriated Pinkney who returned to the back of the restaurant with liquid on his face and a drenched shirt.
Pinkney’s change in attitude happened after Zapata’s drink landed on Pinkney, who’d gone behind the bar to speak with another employee about closing time.
“He was angry,” recalled Cornelius, who said their boss told Pinkney to go outside and calm down. Cornelius said he went with Pinkney because he knew his friend was upset and agitated.
He quoted an enraged Pinkney who kept ranting about Zapata, “He knows where I work, and I don’t know why he came to my work.”
During questioning by first Deputy District Attorney Anthony Miller, and then Zapata’s attorney Joseph Tully, Cornelius cleared up a few things.
No, Nathan was not yelling outside the 1724 restaurant across the street from Market St. Blade and Barrel.
No, Pinkney never reached the 1724 restaurant, because Cornelius was able to convince Pinkney to return to their restaurant.
Yes, Cornelius was in the restaurant’s back parking lot when Zapata, Meagher and Bailey advanced upon Pinkney and Cornelius.
Miller asked Cornelius when he first became aware of the quickly advancing trio, to which Cornelius responded that he became aware when Meagher said to Nathan, “What’s up motherfucker?” At that point, Cornelius said he and Pinkney began backing away and trying to get to the safety of the restaurant.
Cornelius said that he did not want to fight Zapata, Meagher and Bailey. He said Pinkney told Zapata and his friends to leave, and that they shouldn’t have come to his work.
When Bailey grabbed and ripped Pinkney’s shirt in an effort to pull him into the parking lot, Cornelius said he grabbed Pinkney and snatched him away from Bailey. Cornelius, who’s black, said that Meagher said, “Come outside nigger.”
When Miller asked Cornelius what he thought would happen to Pinkney if he hadn’t retreated inside the restaurant, Cornelius said he was certain that Pinkney would have been beaten by Meagher and Bailey.
Much of Tully’s line of questioning had to do with inquiries about how close Pinkney and Cornelius were to the 1724 restaurant after the splashing incident, to which Pinkney responded that they came close – about 20 to 25 feet – but never reached 1724.
Tully asked many question about whether Pinkney was yelling, or whether he was speaking so loudly that people from 10 or 15 feet away could have heard Pinkney, to which Cornelius replied probably not, and explained that he was trying to talk Pinkney out of retaliation as they walked.
“I said, ‘It’s not worth is, it’s not worth it!’ ” Cornelius said, adding that their other restaurant colleague, Tommy Carroll, also said to Pinkney, “Don’t do it!”
Rebecca Zapata takes the witness stand
While none of the defendants took the witness stand, Zapata’s wife Rebecca Zapata did.
It was established during questioning that she and Zapata have known each other since they were kids, and they married in 2016. She’s a neonatal charge nurse at Mercy Medical Center in Redding.
Rebecca Zapata estimated that she and her husband visit the Blade & Barrel restaurant an average of twice a week, sometimes more for special occasions. She said no, she was not wearing a wig that night, that she’d blown out her hair straight, and no, there was nothing out of the ordinary with regard to their routine at the restaurant that night, and that yes, they almost always sit at the bar. Rebecca Zapata said she had wanted to go to Blade & Barrel on May 4 to try out the restaurant’s new menu; the nachos for her, the sushi for her husband.
She said Pinkney came and stood on the other side of the bar from them, and he smirked at her. She said Pinkney called her husband a “tiny man”.
“That’s when Carlos jumped up out of his seat and gestured and said, ‘Get the fuck away from us,” Rebecca Zapata said.
She acknowledged that her husband called Pinkney a “faggot” but she countered with what Pinkney is to have said, that “Red, White and Blueprint is shit”.
For what it’s worth, Rebecca Zapata’s version of how the drink ended up on Pinkney – that Zapata gestured with his hands as he jumped up – is the latest in a string of wildly inconsistent descriptions of one small event, but all the other versions have Zapata seated. Rebecca Zapata’s version is the only one in which Zapata supposedly leaps up, gestures, and that’s what sends the water flying onto Pinkney.
Rebecca Zapata’s version varies from the window-wiper version, the accidental-spill version, the splash version, and the intentional back-handed targeted-to-hit Pinkney version, the latter of which was demonstrated by none other than Zapata himself on his Red, White and Blueprint podcast, despite attorney Tully still maintaining that it was all an accident.
Rebecca Zapata said the glass incident happened so quickly that she only caught movement out of the corner of her eye, but she heard glass break.
When asked whether the glass incident was a purposeful act, Rebecca Zapata said it wasn’t purposeful, but a reaction to Pinkney not leaving the Zapatas alone. Her reply seemed to suggest that the glass incident was a consequence that Zapata inflicted upon Pinkney as a punishment for bothering the Zapatas.
Either way, after that, the Zapatas were asked to leave the restaurant. Rebecca Zapata said they walked to Sacramento Street to their car, and that her husband was upset that their dinner had been interrupted, and that he couldn’t “believe Nathan would do that” and that he was going to call Scott Odell, Blade and Barrel’s owner, and talk to him about it.
Side note: Pinkney was fired from the Blade & Barrel shortly after the May 4 incident that was instigated by Zapata. On social media, Zapata posted a meme that mocked Pinkney, the suddenly unemployed line cook, with a double-entendre prediction/directive from Zapata to his fellow restaurant owners.
Back to Rebecca Zapata’s story of what happened after they left the restaurant: She said they were backing out of the parking place when her husband said he’d received a message from Bailey, and that he said, “Shit! Liz just texted to call me asap.”
Let’s pause here to interject Wednesday testimony from witness Ronald Cook, bartender at 1724 restaurant, who reported that Bailey and Meagher left suddenly after Bailey looked at her phone and said they had to go, that their friend needed them. The assumption is Zapata was that friend.
Rebecca Zapata said Bailey called while they were still in the car, and told her husband that Pinkney and “another guy were looking for him”. Rebecca Zapata said her husband told her to wait in the car, and he left.
Deputy DA Miller asked Rebecca Zapata about the police reports, which she said she first read with Tully and her husband over lunch at the Blade & Barrel restaurant.
There were some irregularities in Rebecca Zapata’s recollection about whether she did or didn’t see her husband’s social media posts about coming to the restaurant to show Pinkney how funny Zapata found the parodies.
Tully embarked on a seemingly random line of questioning that was quickly objected to and sustained by Judge Burgess regarding whether Rebecca Zapata had observed “how backward the legal system is” – followed with related questions by Tully regarding complete and incomplete police investigations.
When Tully asked how her husband handles stress, Rebecca Zapata smiled and cited such activities as jujitsu, roping, riding horses and hanging out with his friends.
Tully followed up on the topic of Zapata’s martial arts expertise, and asked under what circumstances it might be used.
Rebecca said her husband sometimes implements his jujitsu skills when he needs to break up a fight at their Palomino Room bar and restaurant in Red Bluff, and when he needs to remove unruly patrons from the premises.
Tully suggested that Zapata’s jujitsu training could be used to “de-escalate” a heated situation, to which Rebecca agreed.
With that, the defense rested. No further witnesses were called.
For several minutes Judge Burgess went over lengthy jury instructions, which included many detailed rules, definitions, guidelines and examples. Once again Burgess admonished the jury to not discuss the trial with anyone, even a spouse, therapist or clergy member. They were reminded to not use the internet, or do research, or drive by any locations mentioned during the trial.
The DA’s closing arguments
Shasta County Deputy District Attorney Nolan Weber opened his arguments by telling the jury that “political speech cannot become political violence”.
He stuck to the letter of the law, and clarified that he does not represent Pinkney, but rather, the people of Shasta County. He said this trial wasn’t an issue of whether people believed Zapata or Pinkney. And he said it shouldn’t matter whether someone believed that Pinkney did or did not over-react, or whether Pinkney did something that was deemed petty, incriminating or even seemingly stupid. What’s more, Weber acknowledged that some people might even view Pinkney with some scorn regarding some of his behaviors, or foul language used, such as when Pinkney was alleged to have said, “I’m going to shoot that motherfucker”.
Weber drove home the point that Zapata, Meagher and Bailey each had the means, the motive, the opportunity and the intent to commit their crimes of assault upon Pinkney, who’s 5-feet-8-inches tall, confronted by three people who ranged from 6 feet and taller.
Weber went through all the witnesses’ testimony, and pointed out that some witnesses – Ken Sciallo, Thomas Carroll, Liam Grauel, Wes Matthews, Brenon Odell – who, at last report still work for the Blade & Barrel restaurant, and therefore are motivated to stick to the version that exonerates Zapata, a regular customer who’s also an acquaintance of the owner, and a fellow restaurant owner.
Weber played the video that showed Zapata, Meagher and Bailey encroaching upon Pinkney behind the restaurant, and asked for the jury to pay particular attention to Zapata’s hands, which flick out from his side.
“Does that look like de-escalation?” Weber asked.
Weber shared samples of some of Zapata’s social media memes and quotes, like this one:
“Let’s make a deal. You don’t say anything on social media that you wouldn’t say in person and I won’t whip your ass when I see you. Easy as pie. CZ“
Finally, Weber predicted that the defense’s strategy, rather than defending the three defendants by finding legal justifications for their actions, will be to put more time into tearing down Pinkney during closing arguments. There will be lots of details about the gun, Weber said. And regarding that gun, Weber beseeched the jurors to remember that by the time Pinkney did retrieve his weapon from the locked duffle bag in the pantry, Zapata, Meagher and Bailey were long gone, never the wiser about Pinkney’s hidden weapon that he only sought after the assault, and after Meagher heaved a CO-2 canister overhead in a threatening manner.
“Belief in future harm is not grounds for self-defense,” Weber said, meaning that the trio cannot claim self-defense against a weapon they didn’t know existed.
He implored the jurors to look at the law, and not be distracted by irrelevant negative details about Pinkney.
“When you can’t fight on the battleground of the law, you smear the victim,” Weber said.
In closing, based upon all the evidence, Weber said the jury should find the three defendants guilty of all charges.
Meagher and Bailey face misdemeanor charges of battery and disturbing the peace by fighting in connection with the May 4 incident at Blade & Barrel. Zapata is also charged with battery and disturbing the peace by fighting at the same location on the same evening.
With that, Burgess adjourned Thursday’s trial. Court will resume Tuesday, when the defense will present its closing arguments.
Click here for Day 1 of the trial, by Doni Chamberlain.
Click here for Day 2 of the trial, by R.V. Scheide.
Click here for Day 3 of the trial, by R.V. Scheide.
Click here for Day 4 of the trial, by Doni Chamberlain