A Clovis man was sentenced to 38 years in prison for the shooting death of an unarmed man during a fistfight in a quiet Clovis neighborhood on Easter Sunday seven years ago.
In November, a Fresno County Superior Court jury rejected a murder charge and found Alejandro Paz guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the killing of 33-year-old Richard Cervantes on April 12, 2009. The jury also convicted Paz of four counts of assault with a firearm for shooting into a car in which Cervantes’ nephew and friends were riding.
Paz, 29, contended during his trial that he killed Cervantes in self-defense.
His lawyer, Cadee Esparza, said Paz was a good candidate for a lesser sentence because, before the shooting, his only offense was for misdemeanor trespassing. Paz also had a job as a cook and was taking care of his family and two young sons, Esparza said.
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But Judge James Petrucelli rejected the defense arguments on Thursday afternoon and sentenced Paz, who has been in jail since the April 2009 killing, to the maximum punishment.
“I believe the sentence was harsh, considering he had limited criminal history and no violence in his past” before the shooting, Esparza said Friday.
“You have to respect the judge’s decision because someone lost their life and has family who will miss him,” Esparza said. “But (Paz) also has a family and he will miss key moments in his children’s lives as they grow up without him.”
During the trial, prosecutor Brian Hutchins told the jury that Paz murdered Cervantes in cold blood because Paz lost a fistfight with Cervantes.
Esparza countered that Paz feared for his life when he shot Cervantes once in the chest. She said Paz shot Cervantes in self-defense after he heard someone say, “Stick ’em, dog,” and thought Cervantes was going for a knife in his waistband.
Stick ’em, dog.
Words that defense lawyer Cadee Esparza said her client, Alejandro Paz, heard moments before he shot a man
Jurors deliberated 12 hours over two days before reaching the voluntary manslaughter verdict. The jury of five men and seven women also found Paz guilty of shooting at Cervantes’ nephew, Esteban Ohano, who drove Cervantes to the fistfight at Dewitt and Scott avenues in a neighborhood southwest of Old Town Clovis.
In addition, Paz was found guilty of shooting at Ohano’s car that contained three young women who went to witness the fistfight and ended up seeing Cervantes get shot. One of the three suffered a serious head wound while sitting in the back seat of Ohano’s car.
A co-defendant in the case, Vincent Ramirez, who drove Paz to the fight, initially was charged with murder, but was given a plea deal to testify against Paz. In May 2012, Ramirez pleaded guilty to manslaughter in exchange for 12 years in prison.