The man accused of murdering the father of District 34 state Rep. Abel Herrero took the stand in his own defense Friday.
The murder trial of 57-year-old Manuel Chapa Garcia, which began Tuesday, continued Friday with the defense presenting three witnesses to testify in court, one of whom was the defendant himself.
Garcia is on trial for allegedly causing the death of 59-year-old Ivan Alfonso Herrero after an altercation at a Denny’s Restaurant in Corpus Christi.
Alma Garcia, who was married to the defendant at the time of the incident, testified Thursday for the prosecution, calling her ex-husband a “monster.” But Garcia’s daughter, Veronica Garcia Rivas, said Friday during her testimony for the defense that that description was just untrue.
“My dad is loving…he’s a caring person,” Rivas said.
On cross-examination by prosecutor Gail Gleimer, Rivas also said she did not think her father was capable of hurting someone.
“I’m asking you to agree with me that your father is a big man with big hands and a lot of power behind them,” Gleimer said of the defendant, who weighed about 245 pounds at the time of the incident, nearly 40 pounds more than the victim.
“No, I don’t,” Rivas replied.
After his daughter’s testimony, the defendant, who said he was forced to retire from his job of 34 years at the Corpus Christi Army Depot because of the incident, took the stand to give his version of the night’s events.
Garcia testified that he and his wife were having a night out at an Oct. 5 Juan Gabriel concert at the American Bank Center. It was the first night the couple had been out in a while, he said, and was meant to be something special.
The defendant said he had about five beers at the concert, but was unsure on a specific number. Garcia claimed the alcohol had absolutely no effect on him, despite testifying that he was not a regular drinker, due to his diabetes.
“So you knew you weren’t supposed to be drinking?” Gleimer asked.
“Well, it’s a social drink,” Garcia responded.
Gleimer said people who drink regularly tend to build up a resistance to alcohol, so five beers would have affected a habitual drinker less than someone who drinks on rare occasions. But Garcia maintained that when he showed up to Denny’s with his wife, where he said they used to eat at least once a week, he was “not tipsy.”
The defendant said he and his then-wife walked into the restaurant, approached the podium and asked for service. He said he did not cut in line, as the prosecution has 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 Herrero died from blunt force trauma to the head after his fall during the incident, but 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 cursing, 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.
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.
Defense attorney Kenneth Botary called a witness to testify about Herrero’s character after Garcia’s testimony, but 214th District Court Judge Jose Longoria immediately stopped the proceedings after the first question was asked of the witness. He then dismissed the witness.
Closing arguments are expected to begin Monday at 9 a.m. in the 214th District Court. If convicted, Garcia faces five to 99 years or life in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.