Defendant claims self-defense

The accused killer of a 21-year-old after a 2004 Giants ballgame took the stand Wednesday to claim he killed in self-defense and that he turned himself in after a religious epiphany.

Rafael Cuevas, 26, was taken into custody at the Mexican border about two weeks after he allegedly stabbed Timothy Griffith, of Redwood City, during a fight in a parking lot behind the Giants’ ballpark on the night of Sept. 17, 2004.

The melee started after a celebratory Griffith allegedly smacked the passenger side window of Cuevas’ Toyota Corolla. Cuevas testified that somebody punched him in the throat and kept him in a choke hold while Griffith punched him.

Cuevas said he thought to himself, “If I don’t do something fast, I may never breath again.”

That’s when he pulled out a knife, opened it with a flip of his wrist, and “started swing-ing.” Griffith was stabbed several times and Griffith’s friend Carlos Ortega was allegedly beaten by Cuevas’ friend, Jeffery Skifich.

After the killing, Cuevas went to a party in Union City. Authorities would later find his jacket — which contained a bloody knife, a ticket to the Sept. 17 game and a season ticket to the 49ers in his name — at an intersection near the party.

After learning that Griffith was dead, Cuevas drove with his mother and a friend to Arizona, where they crossed the border into Mexico to meet his grandfather in the city of Magdalena. While in Mexico, Cuevas walked 70 kilometers through the desert in an annual “pilgrimage” in honor of the city’s patron saint.

“I was just praying that I could be forgiven for killing somebody,” he said.

Cuevas, who was one of San Francisco’s 10 most wanted criminals at the time, ended up calling investigators to arrange a surrender. He is charged with murder.

bbegin@examiner.com

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