FLORENCE — Gabriel Huante just sat and wept as prosecutors played a video recording of his 2016 confession to murdering Jerry D. Lee Thursday to a seated jury of 10 women and four men.
Huante's first-degree murder trial in the killing of the Casa Grande-area man with a cement block and a rock on Nov. 17, 2016, began Monday before Pinal County Superior Court Judge Delia Neal. Two of the jurors will be alternates.
Huante, 33, was arrested the day after Lee's body was found lying in a pool of blood outside his home in the Colonia Del Sol neighborhood. Shortly after the incident, he admitted to detectives that he killed Lee at his residence in the 18000 block of West Susan Avenue.
Thursday, prosecutor Matt Reed played the video of Huante confessing in a long interview with investigators recorded the day after the murder.
After denying anything to do with the murder repeatedly through the recorded interview, suddenly Huante said he was disappointed in himself because he had been lying to investigators.
“How did you stop Jerry (Lee)?” Pinal County Sheriff's Office homicide detective Joe Bonucci asked on the recording after Huante told him that Lee was becoming more possessive and insisting that he should join a cult.
Huante said on the recording the whole community believed Lee needed to be stopped.
“I pushed him on the ground and then I looked at that rock and it looked like a f---ing dagger. I’ve never seen it before,” Huante said on the recording. “I f---ing crushed his skull with it. I f---ing stoned him because it was the Lord’s will.”
During the showing of the video in the courtroom, Huante sat crying and wiping his eyes with a tissue.
Huante’s family members also sat crying in the gallery.
Huante admitted to hitting Lee in the skull three times on the video recording.
“There were cinder blocks just waiting there and the sharped rock,” Huante said.
Bonucci said the descriptions of the cinder blocks and the rock completely matched the ones placed into evidence earlier that day.
When Bonucci asked Huante if he used the rock or the cinder block to hit Lee, he said, “I used the cinder blocks first. I was debating, but he was still breathing. All my hits were direct,” Huante clearly said on the interrogation video.
Huante then went on to describe where he hit Lee, calling the third hit “the fatal one” that was made with the rock.
Before his admission of guilt (when he was apparently lying to investigators) on the interrogation video, Huante said he didn't want to hurt Lee and that he in fact loved him. Huante told detectives that Lee had also made some sexual advances towards him.
Huante told Bonucci that Lee was a predator on young men, but not a pedophile because he preyed on young men, not children.
On the video recording Huante said he wasn’t threatened by Lee because, “He’s an 80-year-old man and I’d f--- him up — ya know … He pisses me off but does he piss me off enough to cave in his head? — no,” Huante said early in the recording.
Earlier in the day, Reed called PCSO homicide Detective Shawn Wilson and Detective Joseph Roethle to the stand.
Wilson painted a picture of the crime scene and described how he chased Huante down and apprehended him the morning after the murder. Wilson pursued him on foot and stopped him at gunpoint.
Roethle is an expert in technology and extracted data from an LG cellphone Huante had access to.
He was looking for deleted voicemails but didn’t find them and he looked at the phone's sent and received call log.
Roethle said that Lee called Huante at 11:33 p.m., 11:19 p.m. and 11:15 p.m. the night of his death.
Nate Knight, a PCSO crime scene technician, was next to testify at the trial.
Knight documented the scene, took photographs and logged evidence found at the scene, including the murder weapons.
Knight analyzed the blood splatter patterns at the scene and determined that Lee was struck with the rock and a cinder block while positioned on the ground, just outside his own front door.
Blood was found on top of a 4-foot-tall barbecue that was 14 feet away from a centralized “blood pool” area where Lee was believed to have been struck in the head.
Knight showed footprints in the dirt that matched shoes Huante was wearing the evening of the murder.
Reed then had Knight open evidence exhibits showing the jury two cinder blocks and the rock the Huante allegedly used to murder Lee.
There was no cross-examination of any witness from defense attorney Matt Long on Thursday.
Lee, a 65-year-old man, sustained fatal facial and skull fractures in the attack. It was initially believed he had fallen down a small flight of steps. Huante’s attorney requested the defendant undergo a mental health evaluation in 2017, based on the circumstances of the case. It’s customary for defense attorneys to request psychiatric screenings, known as Rule 11 evaluations, for their clients during the litigation process.
According to authorities, the defendant’s girlfriend also reported Huante had been using methamphetamine the night of the incident.
Court records indicate Huante had previously been charged for crimes involving shoplifting, providing liquor to a minor, disorderly conduct and possession of narcotics for sale.
Huante has been housed in the Pinal County jail for more than two-and-a-half years on $500,000 secured bond. He was originally booked into the jail on Nov. 17, 2016.
The trial continues Friday.