Opening statements and several witnesses were heard Monday in the downtown San Diego murder trial of Higinio Salgado, accused of killing San Diego architect Graham Downes, his boss at the time, in April 2013.
According to multiple accounts, which haven't been disputed, Salgado was the last of five guests at an April 18, 2013 after-work social gathering at Downes' Juniper Street home in Bankers Hill.
The gathering reportedly included the consumption of alcohol by all the guests, as well as Downes, and was preceded by some time at a local bar and a "happy hour" at Downes' architectural firm office before that.
Salgado, who faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted, is accused of killing Downes outside his home during a fight in the early hours of April 19, after the other guests had left the property.
Deputy District Attorney Amy Maund described Downes’ death as an undoubtable murder, pointing to the reported count of 17 to 21 blunt-force trauma injuries inflicted on Downes' head.
In Salgado's defense, attorneys pointed to the high levels of drinking between Salgado and Downes.
Downes' blood alcohol content at death was measured to be 0.23 — nearly three times the legal driving limit. A measurement of 0.15 was determined for Salgado four hours after the altercation was reported.
Attorney Jamahl Kersey, of the Kersey Law Office, opened the defense’s case, focusing on Salgado’s elevated blood alcohol level at the time of the altercation between Salgado and Downes.
He said that evidence does not point to first-degree murder — the charge Salgado faces — and said witnesses will not be able to identify who was the initial aggressor.
He previewed the make-up of some witnesses, which he said would include experts in alcohol intoxication and its effects on behavior.
"It is very unfortunate that Mr. Downes lost his life, but this was not murder," Kersey said.
Maund said the killing was predicated on Salgado’s unresolved anger following the mention of a former employee of Downes earlier in the evening while others were still present.
That former employee, Simon Terry-Lloyd, was Salgado's previous supervisor.
In her opening statement, Maund said Salgado disliked him, and that when his name was mentioned at Downes' home — in regard to a recent meeting Downes had with him — Salgado became angry and defensive of his job.
"[Salgado] couldn't let it go," Maund said in her opening statement. "He couldn't let Simon Terry-Lloyd go."
Both the prosecution and defense teams acknowledged that for a period of perhaps several minutes, Salgado was vocal about Terry-Lloyd in front of coworkers at Downes' home, using an expletive to describe his disapproval and insistence that Terry-Lloyd had "better not" come back to Downes' firm and take Salgado's job.
In questioning witnesses who were Downes' guests, one of Salgado's defense attorneys — Jose Badillo of Jose G. Badillo Law Office — focused on how Downes was reportedly able to calm Salgado down after just a few minutes.
He also posed questions to establish that no other hostility was noticed during the night by the others either before the discussion of Terry-Lloyd or after it, and that the socializing continued for some time.
Acquaintances of Downes were present in the court, some audibly reacting when Maund presented photos of Downes’ facial injuries. Maund said that at some point, Downes was also strangled.
By the afternoon, multiple witnesses had been called by the prosecution, including San Diego Police Officer Eric Jones – the first officer to arrive on-scene after a concerned neighbor's call – and others later involved in evidence-gathering and site security. In cross-examination of Jones, Badillo looked to establish Salgado’s level of intoxication.
He recounted remarks in Jones’ report from the scene, which indicated a level of difficulty for Salgado to rise from the laying position -- in which Jones had handcuffed him -- on the ground .
Badillo also questioned Jones about his reported assistance of Salgado as they walked afterward to Jones' squad vehicle.
Maund followed with questions seeking to establish that Salgado’s difficulty in moving was the result of being handcuffed, not being drunk beyond the point of being able to move.
Jones said he didn't observe Salgado stumbling or having difficulty walking, but that he could tell, by the odor, that he had been drinking once he raised Salgado up to his own head level.
"It's common practice, to escort anyone you've detained," Jones said.
Jones reported that when arriving on scene, both Saldago and Downes were laying on the ground, with Salgado in a "spooning" postion alongside Downes.
One of his arms was lying over top of Downes, and neither responded when he ordered the two up. When he assisted Salgado up, he noticed Downes' injured face.
Badillo revisited the point when cross-examining Det. Donna Hoover, who was involved in evidence identification at the scene.
Badillo noted that she used quotation marks in her written report describing an "extremely intoxicated" Salgado who "needed assistance to walk."
Hoover said that since she had not witnessed Salgado at the time of his arrest, the quotes were relayed to her by the police sergeant to whom Jones had reported a synopsis of his observations.
She could not identify who in the department had initially used those words to describe Salgado, or what they specifically meant, Hoover said.
Prosecutors also called to the stand Anne MacDougall and Bailey Bishop, two of the guests that were still at Downes' home with Salgado at the time of the discussion about Terry-Lloyd.
Bishop was the driver for the evening, transporting the group from the office happy-hour to the SRO Lounge — a Bankers Hill bar — and later to Downes' home.
MacDougall and Bishop said they left Downes' home without Salgado because they had become uncomfortable with some of his behavior, which they said was not hostile but crossed personal boundaries.
Their decision to leave, they said, was almost immediate following a situation in which MacDougall accompanied Bishop to the home's master bathroom.
Bishop was using the facilities when Salgado opened the door on the two women, they testified. The two women said they left the house out a different doorway than the group had used to enter it, as they tried to leave without Downes or Salgado asking them to stay longer.
Downes reportedly caught up with them, though, as they reached Bishop's vehicle, asking if they'd stay. They further testified that Downes then asked if they could give Saldago a ride home, but that they refused because it was out of their way.
The altercation between Downes and Salgado was later reported by a neighbor across the street at about 1:10 a.m. Jones arrived on the scene at 1:50 a.m.