SALT LAKE CITY — Prosecutors say there were plenty of witnesses who saw Francisco Alverez murder a man.
The shooting occurred in a busy public Salt Lake park in broad daylight.
Tuesday marked the first day of second trial for Alverez, 57, who is charged with murder, a first-degree felony, in the May 2011 death of Jorge Veracruz, 29. The first trial in October was declared a mistrial in its second day.
Alverez got into an argument with a group of acquaintances and eventually pulled out a gun, shooting Veracruz three times, prosecutor Bradford Cooley told jurors during opening arguments. He said one witness would testify about seeing the shooting while another would recount his efforts to keep Alverez from leaving the scene.
"Because it was a park and on this day it was very busy, much of the testimony will come from eyewitnesses," Cooley said.
He said the case is a like a puzzle with pieces that will implicate Alverez. He pointed to the multiple gunshots that were fired — two of them entering Veracruz's back — and Alverez's attempt to ride a bicycle from the scene and dispose of the gun.
But defense attorney Adam Alba said Alverez did not know the people he was drinking with at the park, including Veracruz. He said the man was merely looking to celebrate Cinco de Mayo when a "boisterous" argument broke out among the group.
"Frank was especially nervous because he didn't know these people," Alba said. "He didn't know what they were capable of or what they might do."
He said Alverez had a couple hundred dollars on him and was afraid he was being robbed. When Veracruz reached toward a backpack, Alverez "did what he thought was necessary to protect himself, to keep himself safe, to keep from being robbed."
The incident drew attention because it took place in broad daylight at Riverside Park where numerous baseball games were taking place. Brandon Schroeder, a Little League baseball coach, testified that it was team picture day at the park and as many as 500 people were there.
He was practicing with the two teams he coaches when he heard a bullet hit a soccer goal post five feet away from him. He ran toward the shooting to try and stop the shooter, he said, when he saw Veracruz laying on the ground, apparently dead.
Multiple people pointed to a man on a bicycle and said he was the one who shot Veracruz, Schroeder said. The coach ran after the gunman and said he saw him fiddle with his waistband and pull out a weapon, which he then threw toward the Jordan River.
He tackled Alverez and held him to the ground for what "felt like forever, but (was) probably seconds," when a police detective arrived and placed the man under arrest. He said he noticed a faint odor of alcohol while restraining Alverez, but said the man did not appear to struggle to speak or walk.
He identified Alverez as the man he stopped in court.Comment on this story
Alverez is also facing charges of possession or use of a firearm by a restricted person, a second-degree felony, and discharge of a firearm, a third-degree felony. He has an extensive criminal history in Utah and was previously convicted of second-degree murder in 1980.
According to court records, Alverez intentionally ran over David Alma Brigham on Dec. 2, 1979, in Ogden. He was paroled in 1986 and has been in and out of state prison since, including seven times between 1986 and 2000.
The trial is expected to last for three days.