Jurors heard opening statements Monday in the San Mateo County Superior Court trial of a 26-year-old man accused of fatally shooting East Palo Alto police Officer Richard May in 2006.
Alberto Alvarez sat quietly at the defense table while prosecuting attorney Steve Wagstaffe called May's death “an execution.”
Alvarez could face the death penalty for the Jan. 7, 2006, shooting.
His defense attorney Charles Robinson told jurors Monday that Alvarez did shoot May, but that May shot Alvarez first.
Robinson described the scene as “chaotic” and said that Alvarez was panicked and “in reasonable fear for his life.”
Alvarez had been eating lunch at a taqueria on University Avenue that afternoon when several people began assaulting him, Robinson said.
The owner of the taqueria called police, and May was one of the officers who responded to the scene.
Robinson said Alvarez ran from the taqueria and May followed him, yelling, “I'd stop if I were you.”
Robinson said May then used an ASP Tactical Baton in an offensive manner to try to stop Alvarez, as opposed to the defensive mode officers are expected to use when employing the batons.
“The offensive use of the baton was excessive, and not used for defensive purposes,” Robinson said. “Alberto Alvarez had no visible weapons and made no threatening moves. He was just running away.”
Alvarez was struck twice with the baton, which slowed him down.
Then, “at some point, for some reason, Officer May pulled out his gun and pointed it at Alvarez,” according to Robinson.
He said May shot Alvarez once in the leg, and Alvarez then shot May four times, including a fatal shot to the head.
“Alberto Alvarez fired his gun only after he was shot,” Robinson said. “The process, and not the result, is important.”
Alvarez then ran away and hid in a nearby apartment. Authorities established a perimeter and Alvarez was arrested at about 6:30 a.m. the next day while hiding in the backseat of his friend's car.
Wagstaffe said that Alvarez tried to do “anything he could to get away,” and that after he was arrested, he considered telling authorities that he heard voices in his head.
Just after Alvarez was booked into jail, authorities found a letter he wrote to a friend in his cell asking for help, according to
Wagstaffe. In the letter, Alvarez told his friend he wanted to use mental health problems as his defense, Wagstaffe said.
“He tried to create a defense by asking someone else to commit a felony by lying for him,” Wagstaffe said.
Wagstaffe also said that in the moments Robinson called chaotic, when Alvarez shot May, Alvarez tried to “shoot his way out, to do anything he could to avoid apprehension.”
In addition, Wagstaffe played a recording of several 911 calls made related to the shooting.
One of the calls was from a resident in the 500 block of Weeks Street, who told police that an officer had been shot.
“It's a cop. Damn, it's a cop on the ground,” the caller said. “He shot a ****ing cop right in front of the house. The police is on the ground
On the dispatcher end of the phone call, the jury could hear, “Officer down, officer down.”
Opening statements concluded shortly after 2 p.m. Testimony is expected to continue Tuesday.