This morning I sat in on opening arguments in the Carlos Fierro Trial. I am always careful about my comments in on going cases. The Sheriffs office did not take part in this case and I will limit my comments to just what I observed and what it is like to take part in a trial like this.
The jury consisted of 8 women and 8 men accounting for alternates. They all seemed attentive and I saw at least 3 of them taking notes. Trial was due to start at 8:30 am however Attorney's and the Judge stayed in chambers until 10:40 am. When the trial began the Judge, Michael Vigil gave jury instructions. The primary instructions were to keep an open mind until the trial ends. No reading, listening or watching news on the Internet in regards to the trial. Jurors are not allowed to discuss the trial with anyone including other jurors until the trial ends and jurors are sent to deliberate.
Then Attorneys gave their opening statements. Prosecutor Juan Valencia gave the opening statement while District Attorney Angela Spence Pacheco sat at the prosecution table and watched. The Defense was expected to claim that the victim was wearing dark clothing, some street lights were out, and that an argument occurred in the bar causing Carlos Fierro to believe he had been somehow attacked and that something was thrown at his car and that caused him to flee when he stuck Fierro. Prosecutor Juan Valencia addressed each of the defense arguments during the opening statement. He went through the events of the evening and stated "if Carlos Fierro had been sober this accident would have never occurred" as he pointed at Carlos. He often described the victim William Tenorio as a "Big Gentle Bear of a man". Repeating this description several times.
Mr. Valencia stated Carlos Fierro was with then State Police Sergeant Alfred Lovato drinking at the Rio Chama then at WilLee's bar where the accident occurred. The two left the bar and went to an Allsups convenience store where they realized they had left Carlo's credit card at the bar. They were driving back to WilLee's bar when they struck a curb blew out a tire and then continued accelerating through a red light, almost struck a person, then continued accelerating up in front of the bar where they struck Mr. Tenorio. Carlos did not stop and continued driving away as he struck another median or curb and blew out another tire. He was stopped blocks away by a city police officer. He failed field sobriety tests and took a blood alcohol test. According to Mr. Valencia the blood test was .21 over two times the legal limit.
Juan Valencia was clear and concise as he spoke to the jury. He had his opening memorized and barely glanced at notes. I thought Spence would give the opening and I had seen her in trials past and expected she would do well however, Juan whom I have never met did an excellent job. The jurors watched every word leave his mouth with interest. He never really raised his voice and kept it at an even matter of fact tone which I think worked well with the jury.
Defense Attorney Jason Bowles was up next. He opened with a few paragraphs about how "two families lives were intertwined forever" He described the pain both families (Tenorio's and Fierro's) are feeling. He described Carlos as a family man who works hard. Bowles stated that "this was a horrible tragic accident but not a crime." He said Carlos would take the stand and admit he was drunk driving. He went on to say that the issue in this case is the Vehicular Homicide and Leaving the Scene Charges. He gave numerous reasons why as he stated "a sober person driving down that road at that time would have also struck William Tenorio." He brought up street lights that were out, and the fact that Mr. Tenorio wore dark clothing, he claimed that Mr. Tenorio was jay walking and brought up state laws on jaywalking and pedestrian right of way laws. He claimed that since all the witnesses heard Mr. Fierro's vehicle strike the curb and blow out a tire prior to coming down the street and striking Mr. Tenorio, then Mr. Tenorio should have heard it also. Attorney Bowles stated Mr. Tenorio did not hear the car because he was walking backwards into the street paying attention to his phone and people he was leaving outside the bar and not paying attention to what was happening in the street. He also mentioned that this was one of the darkest nights of the year.
Bowles also claimed that Mr. Fierro fled because he heard a loud crash and saw glass flying in his car. He claimed that Fierro thought someone had thown something at the car and he was in panic and flight mode fleeing a perceived threat. Bowles said he would present testimony from an independent traffic expert which would show that Tenorio was not in the cross walk. He questioned the city police officers traffic expert since he worked for the police department and was not independent. He went on to allege that the police department never considered this just a tragic accident and treated it as a crime from the beginning.
Defense attorney Jason Bowles kept his tone matter of fact like and I thought did a fair job of presenting a defense that at its base tries to convince the jury that William Tenorio was at least at much at fault as Mr. Fierro with out outright saying it. This type of defense must be handled with kid gloves. You do not want the jury to be disgusted with blaming the victim. Especially when you are admitting that your client was drinking and driving and even struck a curb and blew out a tire, and then drove with that blown out tire before striking Mr. Tenorio.
Before lunch art teacher Oceanna Holton testified and described the accident just as prosecution described it. She stated in her testimony that Mr. Tenorio did use the crosswalk when he was hit. She stated that the headlights on Mr. Fierros car were off at the time he struck Mr. Tenorio. I had to leave and did not see the rest of her testimony and cross examination in the afternoon.
I cannot attend all the trial and even missed all the afternoon witnesses however I do want to try and attend when Carlos Fierro testifies. It was a full house and people were denied entry after the 30 seats in the courthouse were filled. Family members from both Fierro and Tenorio filled the courtroom. There is a lot in this case for the jury to consider and it only takes one juror to have a doubt. There will be different stories and testimony which will require the jurors to sort though it all and decide, was the accident caused by Carlos Fierro drinking and driving or was it caused by Mr. Tenorio, his dark clothes, and low lighting.