Houseguest-death trial begins

What happened moments before a San Mateo man struck a fatal blow to the back of his houseguest’s head remains at the crux of a murder trial that began Thursday in a Redwood City courtroom.

With the image of victim Samuel Vasquez’s bloodied body projected onto an overhead screen, Deputy District Attorney Joseph Cannon told jurors that Cesar Agusto King fractured the victim’s skull with a 4-by-6 piece of lumber while King was passed out facedown on the carpet.

King, 27, is charged with first-degree murder with a special allegation of using a deadly weapon in connection with the June 30, 2004, crime.

But his attorney, public defender Patrick Concannon, told jurors his client acted in self-defense after an enraged Vasquez — who had beaten up King hours earlier — charged at him while threatening to “finish him off.”

King had met Vasquez, 25, two days before the killing when Vasquez arrived at the North Idaho Street apartment King shared with several roommates, including Vasquez’s cousin Patricia, who lived there with her husband and 2-year-old son.

Prosecutors say both Vasquez and King worked in construction. But the defense claims Vasquez was a “coyote” — someone who smuggles immigrants past the U.S. border for a fee.

What isn’t disputed is that after a day of drinking beer together, Vasquez and King got into a heated argument over who made more money.

“The sort of thing people argue about, perhaps, after they’ve had too many beers,” Cannon said.

The men got into a fistfight and at one point, Vasquez broke a Corona bottle over King’s head. King fled to his girlfriend’s house. Two hours later, King returned and moments later, Vasquez was dead.

Multiple witnesses — including forensics experts, police investigators, paramedics and King’s roommates — will be called during the three-week trial, Cannon said. A woman who was sleeping on a couch 15 feet away from the killing will also be called.

tbarak@examiner.com

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