Headline — 11 April 2014 — by Rowland A. Parks
Leon Gomez, 22, guilty of manslaughter

Leon Gomez, 22, walked out of the Supreme Court of Justice Adolph Lucas with tears in his eyes, still protesting his innocence, “da no me.”

Gomez was visibly upset and had to be restrained by relatives and court policemen, who led him to the waiting police mobile unit that would return him to the Belize Central Prison, where he has been on remand since he was charged with the January 18, 2010 murder, of Salvador Martinez.

Justice Lucas has set May 12, as the date for a mitigation hearing and sentencing of Gomez, after a jury of 5 men and seven women returned a unanimous not guilty of murder verdict, but a 10-2 split decision of guilty on the lesser count of manslaughter. The jury had deliberated for over four hours.

Gomez’s murder trial began on March 17, but in the opening days, a number of voir dires slowed down its progress, as counsels, defense and prosecution, hammered away at points of law, legal arguments which had to be held in the absence of the jury.

Attorney Alifa Elrington Hyde, who represented Gomez, tried, but failed to prevent a caution statement that her client had given to police from being entered as evidence in the prosecution’s case.

In his caution statement, Gomez admitted to being at the scene of the murder and told police that he was involved in a fight with another man, whom he stabbed in his hand, before he managed to free himself from the person with whom he was fighting.

The brawl between the two groups of young men who were attending a high school football match at the MCC Grounds that resulted in the stabbing death of Martinez began when someone who was in Gomez’s group asked the deceased, Martinez, what was the issue between him and someone named Justin Usher. According to the testimony of the prosecution’s main witness, Elton Metzken, Martinez replied that they had nothing between them.

According to Metzken, one of the young men, who was dressed in a blue shirt, asked him if he wanted him to take away his, Metzken’s phone, with which he was texting his brother.

Metzken told the court that he looked at the person and continued texting.

“The individual grabbed the phone out my hand,” Metzken told the court. “I asked him back for it, but he did not give it back. There were other people around. Martinez was standing beside me,” he testified.

“I felt a pint bottle hit me and I felt a punch to the right side of my face. When I got hit, I saw Salvador Martinez intervene. When I was fighting with the person in the blue shirt, Martinez was fighting with the person who was dressed in all black,” he went on to say.

But the fight stopped when someone shouted that the police was coming.

The “police” that they had referred to was PC John Valerio, who had given testimony at the trial. Valerio told the court that it was about 6:15 p.m. and he was at the MCC Grounds when he saw a group of young men fighting near an abandoned building.

Valerio said he saw a fair-skinned person, who told him that he had just gotten stabbed. He did not, however, tell Valerio who had stabbed him.

According to Metzken, after the fight stopped, he saw Martinez leaning up on the wall and holding his side. He went over to Martinez and saw some stab wounds, and blood was pouring down. The man in black with whom Martinez had been fighting was nowhere to be seen.

PC Valerio, however, had seen the person, who was dressed in black, drop a knife and run off. But what Valerio did not see was the person’s face.

Metzken identified Gomez in the prisoner’s dock as the man who was dressed in black with whom Martinez was fighting. Gomez never took part in a police identification parade.

Martinez was stabbed four times. The smallest stab wound was a quarter of an inch in length, and was close to his penis on his left pelvic area. The largest stab wound was one and three-quarter inch in length and was on the left side of his lower chest area. He had another one-and-a-quarter inch stab wound in his right collar bone and a three-quarter-inch one on his left thigh.

Martinez would have survived, testified Dr. Mario Estradabran, who had performed the autopsy on his body, if he had received immediate medical attention after he was stabbed.

In his own defence, Gomez gave a statement from the prisoner’s dock, saying that he never stabbed Martinez. He admitted, however, that he was involved in a fight, during which he managed to stab the person with whom he was fighting in his hand. His dock statement was similar to the caution statement that he gave to police that Crown Counsel Portia Staine managed to get into the evidence against him.

At the close of the prosecution’s case, Gomez’s attorney had made a no-case-to-answer submission, but Justice Lucas ruled that he had a case to answer.

Leon Gomez is the brother of Leroy Gomez, who is serving time in prison after a rape conviction. Leroy Gomez had previously beaten three rape indictments without the aid of an attorney.

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