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Federal appeals court overturns California murder conviction over prosecutor's remarks

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SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court has overturned a man's gang-related murder conviction in Northern California.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a Santa Clara County prosecutor made false, inflammatory and ethnically charged remarks in his closing arguments during Paul Zapata's 2004 trial.

Zapata was accused of killing 19-year-old Juan Trigueros in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven in Gilroy three years earlier. Authorities said Trigueros was wearing a rival gang symbol.

The 9th Circuit said the prosecutor made up remarks he said Zapata shouted to Trigueros as he shot Trigueros. The remarks included Hispanic slurs.

The court said Zapata's attorney's failure to object to the remarks constituted ineffective assistance of counsel.

The district attorney's office said it was studying the court's decision and would review the case file to determine the next step.

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