Pickup basketball player not guilty of sucker punching opponent in Clovis gym

A recreational basketball player was found not guilty of sucker punching local media celebrity Chris Terrence during a pickup game inside a Clovis school gym three years ago.

“Thank God,” Branko Boris Dealba, 30, said after the verdict was announced in Fresno County Superior Court. His mother cried.

Dealba also thanked his lawyer, David Muñoz, who argued that Dealba was acting in self-defense when he punched Terrence once in the jaw inside the Gateway High gym on Aug. 12, 2012.

The punch knocked out Terrence’s dentures and damaged one of his teeth. A cut on his face required 11 stitches.

In the courtroom, Dealba won on all counts. The jury of eight women and four men said he was not guilty of felony battery causing serious injury; not guilty of felony assault causing great bodily injury; and not guilty of two counts of misdemeanor battery.

If convicted of the felony charges, he would have faced up to seven years in prison and would have received a strike under the Three Strikes law, Muñoz said.

With the verdict, Dealba is free to live his life, Judge James Petrucelli told him.

The jury came back with the correct verdict and justice prevailed.

Defense attorney David Muñoz

Asked to explain the verdict, the jury foreman paused for about 20 second before saying, “No comment.” He and the other jurors then left the courthouse.

I didn’t see the punch, so I had no chance to defend myself.

Chris Terrence

Terrence, 71, has more than 30 years of experience in the radio/television/production business, including his own television show. He was not in court to hear the verdict, which was announced after three hours of deliberation.

He told the jury that he grew up in New York City and remains active, and has played sports all of his life, including semi-professional football in Fresno. He also said he is 5 feet 9 1/2  inches tall and weighs 190 pounds, which is larger than Dealba, who stands about 5 feet 7 inches and weighs 150 pounds.

During the three-day trial, prosecutor Nolan Kane and Muñoz agreed that Dealba wasn’t part of the normal group of players who played every Sunday with Terrence for nearly a decade. The other players are local businessmen who stand 6 feet or taller and weigh 200 pounds or more, Muñoz told the jury.

Because the group was missing a player, they let Dealba play.

In pickup games, there are no referees, no scorekeeper and no uniforms. Players rely on each other to call fouls.

Terrence testified that he felt he was in charge because he opened the gym to players and was responsible for their actions. He then gave a blow-by-blow account of how the game went:

Terrence guarded Dealba and Dealba guarded Terrence. Terrence told the jury that Dealba from the get-go was too aggressive, so he told him to stop his bad behavior several times. “This is not the NBA or the final game of the World Series,” he recalled telling Dealba.

During the game, Terrence testified he cursed the young man and told him to “keep your hands off me.” Finally, there was a switch, and Dealba and Terrence were no longer guarding each other. But Dealba started grabbing his new man and got into an argument with him, Terrence said. That’s when Terrence approached Dealba with the intent of giving him some friendly advice.

Terrence recalled squaring off with Dealba. No one said anything. They just stared at each other.

With his hands to his side, Terrence testified, he began to walk away. That’s when Dealba punched him. “I didn’t see the punch, so I had no chance to defend myself,” Terrence told the jury.

On the witness stand, three players supported Terrence’s account. But a fourth player testified that it appeared to him that Terrence moved toward Dealba as if he was going to punch him. But that player also said Terrence never raised his hands to throw a punch.

Dealba did not testify, but he told police that he felt Terrence and his friends were messing with him. “They were in this together,” Dealba said, according to Clovis police officer Louis Duran, who has since retired. “They were playing a game within a game.”

According to Duran’s report, Dealba said he told Terrence: “If you touch me, I’m going to swing on you.” Duran also testified that Dealba told him that Terrence pushed him first.

On the witness stand, Terrence denied pushing or touching Dealba before he was punched in the jaw.

In closing arguments, Kane said the evidence was clear Dealba sucker punched Terrence.

But Muñoz told jurors to put themselves “in Dealba’s shoes.” Muñoz said any reasonable person would have believed Terrence was about to punch Dealba. “Sure he should have walked away, but the law does not require a person to do that,” Muñoz said.

In addition, Muñoz told the jury that Terrence’s injuries did not negate Dealba’s claim of self-defense.

With the trial over, a relieved Munoz said, “The jury came back with the correct verdict and justice prevailed. My client and I wish Mr. Terrence the best.”

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts