Lima guilty of assault, not manslaughter, for throwing fatal punch at Gasworks
Published: August 31, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - Three minutes was all it took for Gilberto Parilla to enter the Bovoni Gasworks convenience store last February, purchase a bag of ice and cause a commotion.
Alejandro "Tino" Lima now could spend the next five years in prison for his role in ending the commotion after a jury on Thursday found Lima guilty of third-degree assault for punching Parilla in the face so hard he choked on his partial dentures and died days later from brain damage sustained while unable to breathe.
On the third day of the trial in V.I. Superior Court Judge Michael Dunston's courtroom, the jury found Lima not guilty of the more serious charge of voluntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail. The assault charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail and $3,000 in fines.
During a brief break following the verdict, Lima left his seat at the defense table to console family members who sat through the entire trial.
"Of course we're disappointed with part of the result, but we're never done," Treston Moore, Lima's defense attorney, said.
Moore had made a verbal motion for acquittal based on lack of evidence earlier in the day, and after the verdict, Dunston gave both sides until Oct. 1 to submit briefs on the issue.
Attorneys on both sides began the day by interpreting the trial's main body of evidence - surveillance video footage of the confrontation - before the jury began deliberating.
Assistant Attorney General Sigrid Tejo-Sprotte called the blow Lima landed a "sucker punch."
"If the victim was unwanted and they didn't want to sell him the ice, why did they leave the money on the counter and let him get that ice?" Tejo-Sprotte said.
Tejo-Sprotte emphasized that Lima, who was 6 inches taller and at least 30 pounds heavier than Parilla, "got in the victim's face" and ultimately punched him out instead of forcibly removing him from the store or calling the police.
"That confrontation was initiated by the defendant," she said.
Tejo-Sprotte said Parilla was in his late 50s; Lima was 25 at the time of the incident.
"It was unlikely that Mr. Parilla is just going to bounce back up off the floor and shake it off," Tejo-Sprotte said.
She also highlighted discrepancies between the accounts Lima and other witnesses gave to police following the altercation and their testimony in court. She suggested Lima's defense - that Parilla spit in his face prior to the punch - was invented after the fact.
"He got mad. He got upset, and he wanted to get even," Tejo-Sprotte said.
Moore began his closing statement by pointing out the "clear, unmistakable fact" that Lima is seen in the video footage wiping his face before punching Parilla.
"What would any person on the street do when someone spits in their face?" Moore said. "What's the reaction?"
Moore also described Parilla as "boisterous" and "confrontational," noting the testimony of other Bovoni business owners who had to remove Parilla from their stores.
"There is no doubt that Mr. Parilla lacks some social graces," Moore said.
Moore urged the jury to draw a dividing line between what Lima intended by throwing the punch and what ended up happening to Parilla.
"I think when you punch someone, you don't expect it to kill somebody," he said.
He said the punch was responsible for cutting Parilla's lip and bruising his chin, if anything.
"I submit everything that happened thereafter is an unfortunate accident," Moore said.
He also read the jury the statutory definitions of excusable homicide, one of which reads: "Homicide is excusable when committed by accident and misfortune, in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation, or upon a sudden combat, when no undue advantage is taken, nor any dangerous weapon used, and when the killing is not done in a cruel or unusual manner."
"That fits this situation to a 'T,' " Moore said.
Assistant Attorney General Charles Willoughby Jr. focused his rebuttal on Parilla's tendency to spit when he talked, which was testified to during the trial. He said there was no question that Parilla came into the store "running his mouth" and using profanity.
"It's not about whether or not the people condone Mr. Parilla's actions," Willoughby said. "It's about whether or not those words deserve him not being here today."
Lima's sentencing tentatively is scheduled for Oct. 22.
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email email@example.com.