A jury this afternoon found Alberto Alvarez guilty of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of killing East Palo Alto police Officer and San Luis Obispo native Richard May in the line of duty in 2006.
The case will now go to the penalty phase, in which the same jury made up of six men and six women will recommend to the judge whether to impose the death penalty on the 26-year-old East Palo Alto man.
May chased Alvarez on Jan. 7, 2006, near the scene of a fight at an East Palo Alto taqueria. A scuffle and gunfire exchange in a driveway on nearby Weeks Street left Alvarez with a bullet hole in his thigh and May dead.
The jury began deliberations Tuesday morning following an emotionally charged closing rebuttal argument given by San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
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"His mental state is: I want to kill this man, I want to finish him off," Wagstaffe said in urging the jury to convict Alvarez of first-degree murder with the special circumstance that May was performing his police duties when killed.
May was born and raised in San Luis Obispo and had previously worked as a Lompoc police officer.
Wagstaffe said Alvarez opened fire on the 38-year-old policeman and father of three because he didn't want to get caught with a gun and return to prison on a parole violation. The defendant then ran off and returned seconds later and shot the downed officer again "to finish him off," Wagstaffe argued.
"He was alive," Wagstaffe said Tuesday, referring to May. "Why else would (Alvarez) take out his gun and fire at him? For funsies to shoot at a corpse?" Bullets struck May in the face and shoulder, and two others became lodged in his bulletproof vest.
Defense attorneys argued during the trial that May struck Alvarez with his police baton and then fired the first shot. Alvarez fired back, briefly tried to escape and then shot again at the already fatally wounded officer as he moved toward the street in a panicked state, the defense said.
In a detailed, two-hour closing argument Monday, lead defense attorney Charles Robinson said the prosecution relied on "assumption and emotion" rather than solid forensic evidence.
On Tuesday morning, Wagstaffe called the defense account preposterous, saying May would have been "one of the dumbest officers in the country" if he fired a shot and then stood motionless as Alvarez got out his gun. He also displayed an image of bruises Alvarez sustained from May's baton alongside a photograph of the bloodied policeman lying dead on the ground, asking, does "this bruise justify this?" After deliberating for about eight hours, the jury evidently agreed that the bruise did not justify murdering a police officer.