FLORENCE — After emotionally charged closing arguments, a jury was handed Gabriel Huante’s fate Thursday afternoon.
The jury began deliberations shortly after 2:15 p.m. and continued all day Friday without a decision being reached. The jury will re-convene Monday to continue toward a verdict.
Huante, 33, was arrested in November 2016 for the killing of Jerry D. Lee. The victim’s body was found lying in a pool of blood outside his home in the Colonia Del Sol neighborhood near Casa Grande. Shortly after the incident, he admitted to detectives he assaulted Lee at the residence in the 18000 block of West Susan Avenue.
The court discussed jury instructions before the jury entered the courtroom at 9 a.m.
Defense attorney Matt Long wanted the possibility of aggravated assault added to the jury instructions as he asserts Lee was not brain dead and care was withdrawn from him days after the assault, and that’s why he died.
But Judge Delia Neal said the victim died due to an attack and she would not allow the possibility of aggravated assault as an option in jury instructions.
Instead, the jury was given the options to consider first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter and neglect homicide.
Prosecutor Matt Reed began his closing arguments by thanking the jury.
“Jerry Lee is dead because Huante thought it was God’s will to kill him,” he said. “He believed God asked him to stone Jerry Lee. He did what he thought the Lord asked him to do. Why did he do it? That is a tough question to answer. If you think the evidence convinces you that he committed this murder, it doesn’t matter why he did it.
“He thought Jerry Lee was having him followed with airplanes … even before they met. That’s pretty paranoid. It was premeditated murder.”
Reed replayed video of Huante’s confession with Pinal County sheriff’s Detective Joe Bonucci recorded the day after the killing. In the video Huante admitted hitting Lee in the head with two cinder blocks and a large rock.
“I f---ing crushed his skull with it. I f---ing stoned him. Because it was the Lord’s will … I did what the Lord asked me to,” Huante said on the video.
“Was this murder committed with premeditation and were the defendant’s actions justified? The thought God provided him with the weapons to do it — he described it that they almost appeared supernaturally,” Reed told the jury in his closing argument Thursday.
He was referring to the part of the recording where Huante said, “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. There were cinder blocks just waiting there and the sharped rock.”
That, the prosecution argued, was enough to show premeditation.
“The evidence will show the defendant paused between the attacks with the cinder blocks… he saw that Jerry Lee was still breathing and changed to the rock for the fatal blow,” Reed said.
Huante sat and looked at the floor while Reed made his presentation to the jury about the video-recorded confession.
“All of my hits were direct, I told you I have obtained skills,” Huante said in the confession video.
Reed described 21 physical injuries that Lee suffered in the assault and how Huante was using methamphetamine that night.
Defense attorney Long began throwing around one of the cinder blocks on a break before his closing arguments began and dropped it on the floor of the courtroom.
“This is a case about language and the standards people use to interpret language,” Long said as he opened for the jury.
Long said Lee’s roommate picked up his cellphone and called 911 and left it in the house, and that is how it ended up on a table inside and was not found outside where Lee’s body was located after the assault.
Long maintained that Lee was alive at the hospital and hospital personnel chose to withdraw Lee’s care, which led to his death.
He said Huante grabbed whatever was near him and threw it at Lee in self-defense. He talked about when Huante went through the long interview with police. He accused investigators of directing the interview to get specific results.
Long said the trial was a presentation of the frame of the investigation and wasn’t a presentation of the actual event that occurred.
He said the jury was left with an interpretation of the language of the investigation. He accused prosecutors of only presenting evidence that supported their story. He even used the term “The Wicked Witch” when he discussed the presentation of evidence.
“The government controls what is presented at a trial,” Long said and went on to insist the prosecution only presented those bits and pieces that represented their interpretation of the case.
He even suggested that someone else killed Lee but said the government chose not to present that information.
He dropped one of the blocks on the floor and it made a loud bang. He threw the other block on the floor along with the rock. Long laughed at the concept that the blocks and the rock were heavy.