The State of California (defendant) charged Paul Zapata (plaintiff) with the murder of Juan Trigueros, who was shot and killed in a territory controlled by the Norteños gang, of which Zapata was a member. Trigueros was a first-generation Mexican immigrant and at the time of his killing was wearing a basketball jersey with the number eight on it. These characteristics were indicative of a person being in the Sureños gang, a rival to the Norteños. As part of the prosecutor’s closing argument, he told the jury members that they could reasonably infer that the last words Trigueros heard was the shooter yelling vulgar, ethnically charged epithets at him. There was no evidence that these details actually transpired. Zapata’s attorney did not object to these statements. The jury convicted Zapata. Zapata filed a habeas corpus petition appealing the conviction in federal court.