Fresno man convicted of manslaughter in Tower District slaying

A Fresno man was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the stabbing death of an unarmed man in Fresno’s Tower District in October 2014 – a killing that the defendant said was done in self-defense.

The Fresno County Superior Court jury deliberated over two days before convicting Davin Rodriguez, 25, in the slaying of 36-year-old Jerald Lee Riley. In making their decision, jurors rejected a charge of murder.

Rodriguez faces 12 years in prison when he is sentenced on Dec. 23. If he had been convicted of murder, he would have faced 16 years to life in prison.

The killing happened on Olive Avenue near Roosevelt Avenue in the evening of Oct. 5, 2014.

Defense attorney Richard Esquivel said the conviction of the lesser charge of manslaughter was likely the result of “imperfect self-defense,” a legal doctrine in which a person has an honest but unreasonable belief that his or her actions were necessary to counter an attack.

During the trial, prosecutor Noelle Pebet told jurors that Rodriguez instigated the fight when he sneaked up behind Riley as he walked west on Olive Avenue toward his friend’s home.

Rodriguez then stabbed Riley nine times, Pebet said. The only injury Rodriguez suffered was when he cut his hand while stabbing Riley, she said.

After the stabbing, Rodriguez ditched the knife in an alley and ran home. He then got rid of his clothes, Pebet said. When police later arrested him, Rodriguez repeatedly denied stabbing the victim and never mentioned self-defense, Pebet said.

Esquivel, however, said his client doesn’t trust police. He told the jury that during the police interview, detectives violated Rodriguez’s Miranda rights when he asked six times for a lawyer but was not given one.

In defending Rodriguez, Esquivel said his client, who is 5-foot-6 and 210 pounds and has no criminal record, was only defending himself against Riley, who was 6 feet tall, 160 pounds, muscular and athletic, and high on cocaine.

According to Esquivel, Rodriguez was jogging that night when he noticed Riley behind him. “He became nervous, so he stopped, confronted him, and asked why he was following him,” the attorney said.

Rodriguez told Riley to leave him alone, Esquivel told the jury. That’s when the victim rushed toward Rodriguez and attacked him, the lawyer said.

A motorist saw the fight and told police that Rodriguez tried to get away from Riley, but the victim chased him down, Esquivel said.

In closing arguments of the trial, Esquivel criticized the Fresno Police Department for violating his client’s Miranda rights and for spending only 10 minutes with the motorist who saw the fight, even though he said detectives spent much more time with people who didn’t see the fight but were critical of Rodriguez’s character.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts