He stabbed a man in the heart. Was it jealous rage — or self defense? Jury will now decide

Eric Kenneth Smith is being tried for murder in the stabbing death of 23-year-old Anthony Romero in May 2018.
Eric Kenneth Smith is being tried for murder in the stabbing death of 23-year-old Anthony Romero in May 2018.

Was Eric Kenneth Smith, a 36-year-old construction worker, trying to protect himself when he fatally stabbed his one-time friend Anthony Romero?

Or, did he intend to kill him because he was dating the woman he secretly loved.

On Wednesday, a Fresno County jury began deliberating whether Smith is guilty of first degree murder, a lesser charge — or any crime.

Jurors for more than a week heard from more than a dozen witnesses including, law enforcement officers, neighbors, and relatives.

Prosecutor Elana Smith, during her closing arguments Wednesday, told the jury this wasn’t a case of self-defense as Smith’s attorney, Tony Capozzi, has argued — but one of premeditated murder.

She described Smith as being obsessed with Romero’s girlfriend Lauren Means — and having a rocky friendship with Romero because of it.

Means and Romero had an admittedly dysfunctional relationship, complicated even more by their methamphetamine use.

Clovis police had investigated a case of alleged domestic violence against Means by Romero a few weeks prior to the stabbing, but no charges were filed.

When Romero along with his dog, Creamer, came over to Lauren’s house on March 26, 2018, the potential for trouble was already brewing, the prosecutor said.

Romero hurriedly entered the Tarpey Village home and that’s when the confrontation happened. Means testified Romero and Smith began fighting but didn’t see the stabbing.

Smith testified Romero punched him at least three or four times and his dog attacked him, leaving behind scratches on his hip.

Capozzi, the defense attorney, argued Wednesday it was clear Romero was the aggressor and Smith was simply trying to protect himself when he grabbed his long blade knife from the kitchen table.

“What else could he do?” Capozzi asked jurors. “He had to protect himself, it was purely self-defense.”

Smith was also worried about Means and her two children, who were also at the home, Capozzi argued.

But Elana Smith countered Smith wasn’t afraid at all, nor was Means. If she and Smith were scared Romero was going to hurt them, why did she let him in the house? Why didn’t Means call the police?

She said Smith didn’t accidentally kill Romero as he testified, but did it deliberately.

“He stabbed him right in the heart,” she said.

The coroners report showed Romero was stabbed twice, once in the chest and once in the side.

When Romero’s father found him shortly after the fight, Romero was laying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor.