A man who shot and killed another man during an argument in a Salt Lake City park last year is claiming he fired the fatal shots in self defense.
Francisco Alverez, 56, faces a charge of first-degree felony murder in connection with the May 2011 death of 29-year-old Jorge Veracruz. Monday, on the first day of Alverez's trial in 3rd District Court, a defense attorney said Alverez was protecting himself from a perceived threat.
"Frank was fearful he was going to be robbed," attorney Adam Alba told jurors. "In his inebriated state, he did what he thought was necessary to defend himself."
Alverez and Veracruz were part of a group who were hanging out and drinking in Riverside Park, 700 N. 1400 West, on the evening of May 5, 2011.
The two men began arguing with each other and soon there was talk of fighting, said prosecutor Bradford Cooley. Alverez made mention of the .22-caliber semiautomatic gun he was carrying and Veracruz walked away.
But as the man walked down a path along the Jordan River, the prosecutor said, Alverez fired at least three shots.
One shot struck Veracruz in the back of the right arm. A second went into the right side of his back. A third shot hit the left side of Veracruz's back, piercing his spleen, stomach and aorta before stopping in his lung.
"That was the bullet that killed Mr. Veracruz," Cooley said.
Alverez's defense attorney said the man believed Veracruz was going to rob him and fired only when he saw the man reaching for something in a bag.
"Frank didn't know Jorge. He could have been reaching for anything. … Frank was afraid for his life. He was afraid for his safety," Alba said. "He acted only to protect himself, and he was justified."
At the time of the shooting, it was "picture day" for a local Little League, and the park was filled with hundreds of people. Brandon Schroeder was coaching his Rose Park Lions when he heard a series of "pops." One bullet struck a nearby soccer goal post, the man testified.
"That's when it got scary," he said.
Schroeder jumped a fence and ran toward Alverez, who was fleeing on a bicycle. Officials said Alverez tried to throw his gun into the river, but crashed in the process. Schroeder tackled the man and held him until two off-duty police officers who were in the park for baseball games came to help.
Alverez told the detective that Veracruz had "tried to rob [him]" but, according to testimony, blamed the shooting on another man in the park.
The trial is scheduled to run through Friday.
Alverez was convicted of homicide in 1980 for running over 59-year-old David Bingham with a truck in Ogden the previous year. Alverez was paroled in 1985 but has spent time in state and federal prison since then for various crimes.