PROVO In a somewhat unprecedented move, a judge thanked a defendant for his patience during a 2-year-old murder case that resolved Thursday, sparing everyone a weeklong trial.
"I express my appreciation to him for being patient with this process, knowing that what this court was trying to do was protect his interest and rights and (ensure) the rights of everyone were protected," 4th District Court Judge Gary Stott told defendant Jesus Manuel Holguin-Albo.
Holguin-Albo, 29, pleaded guilty Thursday to manslaughter, a second-degree felony, instead of the original charge of first-degree felony murder. He will be sentenced June 19.
"In this case I think it's important to note that ... this defendant committed the murder while he was under the influence of extreme emotional distress for which there was a reasonable explanation," prosecutor Curtis Larson told Stott. That was the factor that allowed the felony-level reduction.
Just after midnight on May 21, 2006, an intoxicated Holguin-Albo and his equally intoxicated friend, Raul Gonzalez, got into a fight, said Curtis Larson, reading a lengthy factual statement to the judge.
Gonzalez threw Holguin-Albo against the wall then held him down on the floor and punched him in the head, neck and face.
After several minutes, Larson said Gonzalez stopped fighting and went into the bedroom.
At this point, Holguin-Albo was "extremely distressed from the circumstances that had occurred in his home and the injuries he had suffered," Larson said. "While under that distress, the defendant yelled something to the effect of 'Now you'll see,' and immediately ran into the kitchen."
Holguin-Albo grabbed a steak knife with a 5-inch blade, ran into the bedroom and stabbed Gonzalez just below his right clavicle, nicking his carotid artery and leaving Gonzalez to bleed to death on the floor, according to the medical examiner's reports.
The stabbing occurred no more than 15 seconds after Gonzalez stopped fighting, Larson said.
Friends held Holguin-Albo at the house until police arrived and during later interviews, Larson read several statements that Holguin-Albo allegedly told police.
"To one officer he stated, 'My friend Raul challenged me in my own house so I picked up my knife.' To another officer, he stated, 'He was trying to kill me. I grabbed the knife and stabbed him.' To yet another he said, 'He was hitting me very hard, I had no choice but to get my knife and defend myself."'
Defense attorney Brook Sessions was concerned about these statements, especially because his client's blood alcohol level three hours after the assault was still .199. In addition, Holguin-Albo was physically ill and passing in and out of consciousness while talking with officers.
"He feels terrible," Sessions said of his client. "They were very close friends." Holguin-Albo and Gonzalez had worked together across the country and Holguin-Albo had even helped his friend get a job in Utah County.
Holguin-Albo has no criminal history except for a misdemeanor DUI years ago, Session said.
There is an immigration hold on Holguin-Albo, however, and he will be deported after serving his prison sentence, which carries the possibility of one to 15 years.
Although two years isn't excessively long to get to a murder trial, this case has had several.Two deputy Utah County attorneys were excused after one of the attorneys interviewed a witness then later realized that through his questions about her changing testimony, he could have unintentionally led her to alter her story.