Fresno car thief Tino Tufono testifies he killed in self-defense

The Fresno BeeFebruary 20, 2014 

Tino Tufono

A Fresno car thief testified Thursday in his murder trial that he was high on crystal methamphetamine and feared for his life when he fatally shot another addict who was after his drugs.

"Give me what you've got," Jacob Ramirez yelled right before he lunged at Tino Tufono with a pizza cutter, according to Tufono's testimony in Fresno County Superior Court.

Tufono said he fired two rounds at Ramirez because he felt trapped; Ramirez's friend was standing behind him.

"They made eye contact," Tufono told the jury. "They were going to jump me."

After killing Ramirez, Tufono said other addicts in the garage, including Ramirez's friend, volunteered to move Ramirez's body and burn his clothing.

Afterwards, Tufono said he left the garage with two women to do more drugs to calm his nerves.

In the second week of trial, Tufono, 32, gave a glimpse into Fresno's seedy drug world where addicts steal from each other and share drugs to get sex.

Before his arrest, Tufono was considered Fresno's No. 2 most wanted auto thief. He had been released from Fresno County Jail at least seven times because of the sheriff's early-release policy to avoid overcrowding, authorities said.

If convicted, he faces life in prison.

Ramirez, 25, was killed Dec. 6, 2011, inside a detached garage on Clinton Avenue, just west of Blackstone Avenue. Prosecutor Ron Wells described the garage as a flophouse where addicts do drugs, hang out and crash.

Thursday, Wells accused Tufono of wanting to cut up Ramirez's body and burning it, but Tufono denied the allegations. Tufono, however, did say he took Ramirez's shoes after he was dead, but denied telling others in the garage that "he don't need these any more."

Tufono, whose parents are in prison, told the jury that he never intended to kill anyone that night. He said he started his day by stealing an expensive bicycle from a friend who had also stolen the bike.

He said he rode the bike toward a friend's home in downtown Fresno, but ended up getting into a fight with a woman. The woman pointed a handgun at his face, he said, so he took the weapon away from her.

The gun was a Glock .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun. Tufono testified he was unfamiliar with the weapon and it fired and nearly hit his leg as he rode the bicycle to another friend's home.

There, he traded the bike for drugs and a car ride to Van Ness and Clinton, a few blocks from the flophouse.

Inside the flophouse, Tufono said he shared crystal meth with other addicts, including some women. He said he had already smoked the methamphetamine in a glass pipe when Ramirez and his friend showed up.

Tufono testified he didn't know Ramirez or the other person.

He said he was sitting in a wheelchair and Ramirez was sitting in another chair when Ramirez's friend squeezed behind him. " I stood up because I felt the tension," he told the jury.

Tufono said Ramirez then demanded his drugs, pulled a crescent-shaped pizza cutter from his pocket, and lunged at him. "That's when I shot him," he said.

Tufono said he then hit Ramirez's friend in the face with the gun.

After killing Ramirez, Tufono said he blamed the addicts who knew Ramirez for not defusing the situation. He said the addicts told him: "We will help you clean it up."

"Everyone was tweaking," Tufono said. He remembered putting the gun down and not knowing what to do.

That's when he decided to leave and get more drugs. He later sold the gun for drugs, he said.

Police arrested Tufono the next day.

Because Tufono has been in trouble with the law since he was young, he told the jury that his first inclination was to lie to police. But he finally told detectives that he shot Ramirez in self-defense and told them where they could find the murder weapon.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, or @beecourts on Twitter.

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