Officer's family addresses jury in penalty phase

Family members of East Palo Alto police Officer Richard May, who was fatally shot in the line of duty almost four years ago, told jurors during the penalty phase of his killer's trial today how difficult their lives are without him.

“We used to talk about everything,” said May's daughter Deanna May, who was 13 when May was gunned down on Jan. 7, 2006. “Now I don't even remember the sound of his voice.”

May's wife, Diana May, said her husband was “our protector” and her “beloved husband.”

“I never imagined when I told Rich goodbye the night before (he died) that it would be forever,” she said.

Jurors convicted 26-year-old Alberto Alvarez on Nov. 25 of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of killing a peace officer for May's death.

The special circumstance makes Alvarez eligible for the death penalty, which prosecutor Steve Wagstaffe told jurors during opening statements of the penalty phase is the “appropriate” punishment.

May's stepdaughter Brittany Cofield, who said May raised her since she was 5 years old, told jurors today that the holidays are particularly difficult because May is not around for family traditions like buying a Christmas tree or making cookies.

On the last Thanksgiving before he was killed, “Rich said he was thankful for the four girls in his life,” said Cofield, now 21.

May's youngest daughter, Lauren May, now 13, said her father always supported her soccer games and that sometimes she still can't believe he is gone.

“My dad is not there to watch me play soccer,” she said. “Sometimes I think it's all just a dream. I no longer have anyone to help me with sports.”

Alvarez's defense attorneys, Charles Robinson and Eric Liberman, have asked the jury to choose the lesser sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Robinson and Liberman said outside the courtroom today that Alvarez was crying during May's family's statements and that their client understands the pain May's family feels.

Liberman also said he thinks 15 people testifying on behalf of the prosecution in the penalty phase was too many. He said his research has indicated that there have never been more than eight witnesses allowed to testify for the prosecution during the penalty phase of a trial in California.

Robinson said Alvarez's family and friends will speak during the defense's turn but that Alvarez likely won't make a statement.

“I know he feels terrible,” Liberman said. “He understands the loss he has caused. But we also recognize, based on his testimony in the trial, that the jury has rejected him and what he has to say.”

Alvarez testified during the guilt phase that May shot him first, and that he only fired back because he feared for his life.

Robinson said Alvarez has an IQ of 84 and, educationally, has the mental skills of a 9- to 15-year-old.

“He's not Charles Manson,” Liberman said. “He's not a rapist or a mass murderer. Yes, he was convicted of first-degree murder but it's not like he sat at home for days thinking he would kill a police officer.”

The emotional testimony delivered by May's family and friends spanned two days, ending just after 11 a.m. Tuesday.

East Palo Alto Police Chief Ron Davis, who was the first to testify this morning, said he will always remember the call he received
notifying him that May had been killed.

“Rich's loss was very impactful to the community, the Police Department and the entire law enforcement profession,” he said.

The defense will begin its testimony Thursday.

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