A 3rd District Court jury deliberated for three hours Thursday before finding a Murray man guilty of manslaughter for killing one of his "good friends."
Russell Michael Ontiveros, 37, was charged with second-degree murder - a first-degree felony - for the stabbing death of Jessie Roybal, 31, on Dec. 27. But the four-woman, four-man jury ruled that he was guilty only of a reduced charge of manslaughter, a second-degree felony.Both the defense attorneys and the prosecutor seemed unhappy with the verdict, although they said they felt the jury had done a good job.
"We're a little disappointed," said defense attorney Richard Mauro. Salt Lake County deputy attorney Greg Bown declined to give his reaction about the verdict.
Roybal's girlfriend cried, and other relatives expressed their disappointment that Ontiveros had not been convicted of second-degree murder. "God will see that he's punished," one woman said.
During the trial, Royal and Ontiveros had been described as good friends. Witnesses testified that Roybal became extremely angry when he returned to his apartment and discovered that Ontiveros' stepson, Timothy Sandoval, 18, had been using the telephone. Ontiveros apparently tried to intervene and Roybal threatened him.
Roybal and his girlfriend went into a bedroom. "He told me to take the gold chain I had given him off of his neck because he was going to kick his (Ontiveros') ass," said Cori Romero.
But Ontiveros said he thought Roybal had gone into the bedroom to get a gun. He said he grabbed a steak knife from the kitchen to defend himself. "He was so mad," Ontiveros said. "For all I know, he could have come back out shooting."
"So you grabbed the steak knife so that you could deflect the bullets?" asked Bown.
"I don't know. I guess," he replied.
Ontiveros insisted that he did not go out of the house to fight Roybal but only wanted to calm him down and get him away from the women. During the altercation outside, he said he thought several times that Roybal would pull out a gun and shoot him.
He said Roybal slugged him in the face, but the only time he hit Roybal was when he stabbed him in the heart with the knife.
"The minute that I hit him with that knife it gets kind of fuzzy from there," he testified. Ontiveros said he threw the knife out of the window of his car just before officers pulled him over.
Bown told the jury that everyone at the apartment that night knew the two men were going outside to engage in a fist fight. He said Roybal did not have any weapon and would not have attacked Ontiveros if he knew he had a knife.
He reminded the jury of a witness that testified she saw one of the two men open his coat, take something out and then lunge at the other person. "The truth is he agreed to go outside and duke it out," he said. "The defendant concealed the knife and then used it."
Bown continued, "Why do you take a knife to a fist fight unless you intend to use it?"
But defense attorney Karen Stam said the evidence was clear that Ontiveros thought - and still believes - Roybal had a gun and he was only trying to protect himself and the others in the apartment.
Roybal had earlier bragged about having a gun. She said Roybal was in an "alcoholic rage" and confirmed Ontiveros' fears when he said, "That knife is not going to do you any good."
"All the evidence was he was scared and tried to stop the fight," she said.
Third District Judge Dennis Frederick will sentence Ontiveros on May 6 at 9 a.m. Defense attorneys said they have not yet decided if they will appeal the verdict.