A Fresno man was sentenced Friday to 12 years in prison for killing a man whose goal in life was to own a food truck and feed the homeless.
In a letter, Davin Rodriguez, 25, told Superior Court Judge John Vogt that he wanted to apologize to the family of Jerald Lee Riley, 36, who was unarmed when he was stabbed nine times during an altercation with Rodriguez in Fresno’s Tower District in October 2014.
Rodriguez contended he stabbed Riley in self-defense.
Prosecutor Noelle Pebet , however, told the judge that Rodriguez’s apology was insincere because he also blamed Riley for his own death. Rodriguez also blamed witnesses in his trial, the police and the prosecution for his predicament, Pebet said.
But defense attorney Richard Esquivel said Rodriguez didn’t intend to kill Riley. He said Rodriguez stabbed Riley because the bigger, stronger and older Riley attacked him. He also reminded the judge that the jury in November had rejected a murder charge and convicted Rodriguez of voluntary manslaughter.
“This was not planned,” Esquivel said.
In the end, Vogt sentenced Rodriguez to the maximum penalty for voluntary manslaughter with the knife, saying Rodriguez has anger issues, is a danger to society and has never accepted responsibility for killing Riley.
Trying to characterize Mr. Rodriguez as the victim in this case does not fit the facts.
Judge John Vogt
The slaying happened on Olive Avenue near Roosevelt Avenue in the evening of Oct. 5, 2014.
During the trial, 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 attack, 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 Riley and never mentioned self-defense, Pebet said. Once blood linked him to the killing, he told detectives he killed Riley in self-defense.
In defending Rodriguez, Esquivel said his client is 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 210 pounds with no criminal record. He said Riley was 6 feet tall, 160 pounds, muscular and athletic, and high on cocaine.
This was not planned.
Defense attorney Richard Esquivel
According to Esquivel, Rodriguez was just out for a jog when Riley confronted him. When Rodriguez told him to leave him alone, Riley rushed toward Rodriguez and attacked him, Esquivel said. A motorist saw the fight and told police that Rodriguez tried to get away from Riley, but the victim chased him down, Esquivel told the jury.
During Friday’s hearing, Riley’s family members cried when they recalled memories of the victim, who was known as J.J. They said he loved the San Francisco 49ers football team, was planning to get married and had a big heart for the homeless and poor. His goal was to get a food truck so he could feed the homeless, they said.
The family wanted Rodriguez to spend life in prison because they said Rodriguez has never shown remorse and during the trial witnesses said he disliked African Americans. Riley was African American.
The Probation Department recommended seven years in prison for Rodriguez. Esquivel sought probation but said Rodriguez was willing to do three years in prison.
Pebet argued for the maximum penalty, saying Rodriguez killed an unarmed man, disposed of the weapon sued and lied to police.
Vogt agreed with Pebet’s summation of the facts. “Trying to characterize Mr. Rodriguez as the victim in this case does not fit the facts,” Vogt said. “What troubles me is the efforts Mr. Rodriguez made to avoid responsibility.”