The punch thrown by an Oceano man that killed another man outside an Arroyo Grande establishment in October 2014 was self defense in a bar fight gone wrong, the defense attorney for 39-year-old Ignacio Franco Palomar claimed in closing arguments to a years-long murder case Wednesday in San Luis Obsipo Superior Court. Deputy District Attorney Charles Blair said Palomar's actions stemmed from "bad intent" and asked jurors to convict him of second-degree murder for the death of 38-year-old Gregory Arthur Rustigian.
Jurors must now decide whether Palomar is guilty of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter or not guilty on any count.
Neither attorney disputed that both Palomar and Rustigian had a dispute at Ralph and Duane's Bar in Arroyo Grande on the night of Oct. 2, 2014; bar surveillance footage depicted as much. Both sides also agreed that it ended with Rustigian receiving a blow to the head and falling to the ground, likely hitting his head. Rustigian later entered a coma and died Nov. 7, 2014.
Blair said the evidence all pointed to Palomar's "bad intent" toward Rustigian.
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"There is no other reasonable outcome that you can come to in this case," Blair argued.
He walked jurors through the surveillance footage one last time, showing what appeared to be a confrontation between Rustigian and Rosa Lopez, a relative of Palomar. A short time later, Rustigian and another man, Erik Wolting, were seen leaving the bar; Palomar was seen exiting the bar shortly after, before returning inside and exiting once more accompanied by a small group that included Lopez.
Blair conceded that Rustigian likely said, and did, offensive things to Lopez, but added that "nothing he did that night justified being physically assaulted."
Blair said Rustigian, despite being heavily intoxicated, was seen on video actively de-escalating a tense situation.
"When he was assaulted, Greg was walking away from the bar that night," Blair said. "He was trying to leave, that's all."
Blair said that when Palomar was shown leaving the bar, his violent intentions were visible in both his posture and actions; a witness testified that Palomar said "he is going to f*** homeboy up."
"When Mr. Palomar exits that bar, he has bad intent," Blair said.
Defense attorney Trace Milan argued in his closing argument that at no point did Blair conclusively prove his case against Palomar.
"The big question: Who swung first?" Milan said.
The defense attorney said nothing in the video proved that Palomar threw the first punch; he said that if Rustigian threw the first punch, then a return blow by Palomar could be considered self-defense.
Milan painted the scuffle as a bar brawl gone wrong, a confrontation resulting from Rustigian's alleged insulting behavior and statements — at one point, Rustigian was heard as saying "I f****** hate Mexicans."
"Sometimes, grown men get drunk and bring bad things upon themselves, and there's no one to blame except themselves," Milan said.
Milan also disputed Blair's argument that a punch to the head is deadly force.
"At the heart of boxing and MMA is punching somebody in the face," he said.
Milan told jurors that investigators failed to collect the evidence that could conclusively prove Palomar's responsibility; he said there was no autopsy, Arroyo Grande police didn't take crime-scene photographs and Blair never established Palomar's dominant hand — to strike Rustigian in his right eye would require a punch from the left hand, Milan said.
The jury will resume deliberation Thursday.