Gasworks worker tells jury why he threw fatal punch Man died after his dentures were lodged in his airway
Published: August 30, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - Alejandro "Tino" Lima said he was still in shock when he spoke to police about an altercation in February at the Bovoni Gasworks that claimed the life of Gilberto Parilla.
"I wasn't agitated per se," Lima said in a soft, even voice. "It was more shock."
Within minutes of entering the gas station's convenience store where Lima had just finished his shift on Feb. 17, Parilla began yelling and cursing at Lima and others, and was knocked out cold by a single punch from Lima. Doctors said Parilla died days later from brain damage sustained in the moments following the punch, which lodged his partial dentures in his airway and cut off the oxygen supply to his brain before paramedics arrived on scene and revived Parilla.
"I was thinking I hope I didn't hurt him really bad," Lima said.
Lima's lawyer, Treston Moore, asked his client why he hit Parilla - specifically whether it had anything to with Parilla insulting Lima's mother.
"No," Lima said. "I hit him because he spit on my face."
Under questioning from Moore, Lima on Wednesday also narrated the soundless security camera footage of the incident.
"That's me there in the white," Lima said, using a laser pointer to identify himself for the jury.
The footage shows Parilla enter the store and immediately approach the cashier, Lima's cousin.
"He's yelling, he's cussing," Lima said. "I said, 'Sir, you need to go.'"
Lima said that Parilla swore at him repeatedly and that Lima repeated, "Sir, you need to go."
On the video, the cashier motions for Parilla to leave the store, and Lima can be seen confronting Parilla twice and pointing toward the door.
But Parilla did not leave. Instead, Lima walked away, and Parilla went to the back of the store to grab a bag of ice.
In the final seconds of the encounter, Parilla walked toward the door with the ice and stopped. Lima stepped toward him, and the two men faced each other on the store's entrance mat.
In quick succession, Parilla spit on Lima, Lima wiped his face and clenched his fists at his sides. After a beat, Lima threw a right-handed punch that connected with Parilla's head. Parilla wobbled then fell on his back near the door. Lima took a few steps back before leaving the camera frame. He returned in the camera frame a moment later and walked out the door.
"It happened quick," Lima said. "I was in shock. It was the first time someone spat on my face."
Lima said in the brief pause between wiping his face and striking Parilla, he asked Parilla whether he spat on him. Parilla simultaneously cursed Lima's mother one more time.
Lima said he struck Parilla only in response to the spitting, not the verbal insults, and out of fear for his own safety.
"To prevent him from injuring me, spitting on me again, assaulting me in any way," Lima said.
Moore also presented other witnesses Wednesday, including business owners from the Bovoni area and a security guard, who testified to having previous confrontations with Parilla and described him as a persistent nuisance to customers.
During cross-examination, Assistant Attorney General Charles Willoughby Jr. pointed out a discrepancy between Lima's testimony - that Parilla spat on him - and his statement to police following the incident - that Parilla "was spitting all over my face."
He also asked Lima his height and weight, which Lima reported as 6 feet and 175 to 180 pounds. On Tuesday, the territory's medical examiner Dr. Francisco Landron reported Parilla stood at 5 feet, 6 inches and weighed 145 pounds.
Willoughby later asked Lima whether he thought throwing a punch would injure Parilla.
"I didn't want problems," Lima said. "I thought I could just tell him to leave and he would leave. But it didn't work."
Lima is charged with voluntary manslaughter and third-degree assault. Attorneys are scheduled to make closing arguments this morning before the jury begins deliberating.
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email email@example.com.