Rejecting murder charges, a Fresno County Superior Court jury on Monday found Alejandro Paz guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of an unarmed man during a fistfight in a quiet Clovis neighborhood on Easter Sunday 2009.
Paz, 29, of Clovis, cried when the verdict was announced.
His attorney, Cadee Esparza, said Paz was relieved because if he had been convicted of murder he would have faced life behind bars.
But Paz isn’t out of legal trouble yet. He still faces as many as 36 years in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 10 because the jury also found him guilty of four counts of assault with a firearm.
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Esparza said Paz is a candidate for a lesser sentence because, before the shooting, his only offense was for misdemeanor trespassing. He also had a job as a cook and was taking care of his family and two young sons.
During the trial, prosecutor Brian Hutchins contended that Paz, then 22, murdered the unarmed Richard Cervantes, 33, in cold blood because Paz lost a fistfight with Cervantes.
Esparza, however, told the jury that Paz feared for his life when he shot Cervantes once in the chest. She said Paz shot Cervantes in self-defense after he heard someone say, “Stick ’em, dog,” and thought Cervantes was going for a knife in his waistband.
Jurors deliberated 12 hours over two days before reaching the voluntary manslaughter verdict for killing Cervantes. The jury of five men and seven women also found Paz guilty of assault with a firearm for shooting at Cervantes’ nephew, Esteban Ohano, who drove Cervantes to the fistfight at Dewitt and Scott avenues in a neighborhood southwest of Old Town Clovis.
In addition, Paz was found guilty of three additional counts of assault with a firearm for shooting at Ohano’s car that contained three young women who went to witness the fistfight and ended up seeing Cervantes get shot. One of the three suffered a serious head wound while sitting in the back seat of Ohano’s car.
A co-defendant in the case, Vincent Ramirez, who drove Paz to the fight, initially was charged with murder, but was given a plea deal to testify against Paz. Ramirez, 26, has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in exchange for 12 years in prison.