A Fresno County jury has found Eric Kenneth Smith not guilty in the stabbing death of 23-year old Anthony Romero, his one-time friend.
The jury deliberated for less than a day before reaching their verdict on Thursday.
The 36-year-old construction worker was charged with murder for stabbing Romero on March 26, 2018 after a confrontation at the Tarpey Village home of Romero’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Lauren Means.
All three had been friends for several years.
Defense attorney Tony Capozzi successfully argued that Smith stabbed Romero in self-defense to protect himself from being attacked by Romero and his dog.
“I felt from the very beginning that he was not guilty,” said Capozzi. “The DA wanted to offer a plea deal of manslaughter but we didn’t take it, we wanted to go to trial.”
During the trial, Capozzi portrayed Romero as the aggressor the minute he rushed into Means’ home. He struck Smith, a friend who he had a rocky relationship with, three to four times while the dog clawed him on his hip.
Capozzi said Smith feared for his life and that of Means and her two children.
Romero was stabbed twice, in the chest near his heart and on his side. Smith testified he didn’t remember stabbing Romero twice and at times provided conflicting testimony about how it happened.
Prosecutor Elana Smith was visibly disappointed at the jury’s verdict. She declined to comment on Thursday.
For Eric Smith’s parents, who have attended every single court case, the acquittal came as a huge relief.
“This has been real hard on our family,” said father Kenneth Smith. “This has been going on for more than a year and we are happy it is over. Justice has been done.”