The man accused of causing the death of District 34 state Rep. Abel Herrero's father was found guilty of manslaughter Monday.
A jury emerged from nearly four and a half hours of deliberations to find 57-year-old Manuel Chapa Garcia guilty of manslaughter, a second-degree felony that is punishable by two to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Garcia had been facing a first-degree murder charge, as well as the possibility of being convicted of aggravated assault or criminally negligent homicide.
The murder trial began May 13, with the prosecution presenting witnesses that sought to paint the defendant as having no remorse for the death of 59-year-old Ivan Alfonso Herrero.
The incident occurred Oct. 5 at a Denny's Restaurant in Corpus Christi located near Navigation Boulevard and the Interstate 37 Access Road. Witnesses for the prosecution, including the defendant's then-wife, described Garcia as a "monster" who said he had sent Herrero "to Hell."
Garcia was accused of striking Herrero twice after Herrero allegedly confronted him about cutting in line at the restaurant. After he was struck, Herrero fell to the floor, hitting his head with a force the medical examiner's office said was comparable to falling out of a second-story window.
During closing arguments Monday, the defense said that Herrero may not have been killed by Garcia's blows, or even the fall, but rather due to a lack of proper medical care after being transported to the hospital.
Defense attorney Kenneth Botary claimed also that it was Herrero who started the confrontation, using profane language and taking a swing at Garcia, who said Friday that he felt threatened and was forced to fight back.
The defendant said he and his then-wife walked into the restaurant on Oct. 5, approached the podium and asked for service. He said Friday that he did not cut in line, as the prosecution alleged, despite the waiting area containing a few patrons.
Garcia said he was unsure at the time whether or not the people were waiting to pay or be seated.
After an employee asked Garcia how many people were in his party, the defendant claimed the employee reached for two menus. At that moment, Garcia said Herrero confronted him with profane language about cutting in line and accusing him of acting like a "big shot" because Garcia was wearing multiple gold rings and a medallion.
The defendant had previously testified that he liked wearing jewelry to show off but "never wore them as weapons." The medical examiner's office had previously said that in addition to the blunt force trauma Herrero sustained to the head after his fall, he also had a broken jaw as well.
Garcia said he responded to Herrero by telling him to mind his own business. That was when he claims Herrero took a swing at him, allegedly grazing Garcia's left ear. The defendant stood up on the stand, per the prosecutor's request, and described how he then hit the victim once with his left hand.
Garcia said Herrero then lunged at him again and Garcia hit him a second time with his right hand. The defendant told the court he wasn't sure if he used an open or closed fist to strike Herrero.
"He was the one who was cussing, I just told him to mind his own business," Garcia said. "I thought I was defending myself."
Gleimer asked Garcia if he thought the victim might have just been falling forward after Garcia's initial blow, not lunging, but the defendant said he did not think so.
After the incident occurred, Garcia said he left the scene because he was afraid the crowd at the restaurant, which included people who were with Herrero at the time, would try to attack him.
Garcia said he walked to a nearby convenience store, where a Denny's employee, who had followed him, asked Garcia if he realized what he'd done.
The defendant, after being pressed by the prosecutor, said he told the witness "Yes," and that the victim "was talking (expletive)."
Garcia also testified that he was not trying to run from police, but then told the prosecutor he had given his wife the keys to his truck before he'd left the scene and told her to pick him up down the street.
Gleimer said Monday that that statement showed he was not planning on waiting around for police to arrive, but rather flee from authorities.
"Flight is evidence of guilt," Gleimer said.
It wasn't until after he was arrested and transported out of his cell that Garcia said he learned of Herrero's death.
"I thought I was in there for assault," the defendant testified. "I just felt drained because they said: 'You're going to be charged with murder because (Herrero) died.' I just couldn't believe it."
Garcia then apologized to the Herrero family, as well as his own.
"I never knew something like this would happen," he said.
The prosecution, however, said Garcia knew full well that his actions would cause "serious bodily injury" to the victim.
"I don't believe it was a fight," Gleimer said. "It was a homicide."
Garcia was taken into custody until his sentencing hearing, which was scheduled to take place Tuesday in the 214th District Court of Judge Jose Longoria. Details were not available as of press time.