Higinio Salgado testified Thursday he was so intoxicated the night of architect Graham Downes' fatal beating that he doesn't remember a fight or if he caused Downes' death.
It was the first time since the murder trial began Monday that the question had been asked.
"You aren't saying you didn't do this, are you?" Deputy District Attorney Amy Maund asked Salgado, who appeared as the last defense witness of the day.
"I don't know if I did this," Salgado replied. "I really wish I did [know]." Salgado said there are only a few moments from the late April 18 into the early morning of April 19 for which he can recall a "flash" of memory.
Because of Salgado’s testimony that he was "not conscious" of what was happening for much of the night, Superior Court Judge Joan P. Weber asked if the defense would ask to include involuntary manslaughter for updated jury instructions. Defense attorney Jose Badillo said they did; Maund told Weber that she would make the revision that afternoon.
Salgado is accused of beating Downes outside the victim's home about 1 a.m. April 19, during an altercation that followed several hours of socializing and drinking among the two and several Graham Downes Architecture employees.
Alcohol played a role throughout the night, starting with an office "happy hour" at the architectural firm's office and continuing with Downes, Salgado and others drinking alcohol at the SRO Lounge — a Bankers Hill bar. They drank more at Downes' home near Juniper and Albatross streets in Bankers Hill.
A neighbor who lived in an apartment directly across Juniper Street testified Tuesday that he witnessed an argument between two men outside. He said the argument escalated, and one man wearing a blue shirt — matching Salgado's from that evening — appeared to be more vocal and forward-moving than the other. He called the police when, from a distance, he saw the man in blue "over top" of the other on the ground and heard "gurgling" sounds.
Salgado said he remembers none of that.
He said he doesn't remember arriving at Downes' home, or other reported details such as "agitating" the dog at the house, teasing one of his co-workers to the point of offending her or having any conversation that might have made him angry with Downes.
"The whole time, I remember we were having a good time," Salgado said.
The relationship between Downes and Salgado, who worked for Downes for about five years and was most recently a facilities and property manager with other responsibilities, was "great," Salgado said.
"In fact, he had just given me a raise," he said.
Salgado said his faulty memory began when the group was at the bar, where he said he recalled Downes asking what each in the group wanted to drink. He remembers ordering a Jack [Daniels] and Coke, and sometime later going to the restroom after finishing it. When he returned, another Jack and Coke was waiting for him, he said.
Earlier at the office happy hour, he said he and others drank beer and wine before he and Downes matched each other with four tequila shots each.
SRO Lounge bartender and manager Brian Gordon testified earlier that Salgado became louder as he had more drinks, and that after a while he cut off Salgado from ordering more.
Downes, who stood just over 6 feet tall and weighed 259 pounds, had a blood-alcohol level at the time of his examination of 0.23, nearly three times the legal driving limit. Salgado, who is 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighed 320 pounds, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.15 about four hours after police arrived.
Dewayne Beckner, a consulting forensic chemist who used to supervise DUI testing and correlation studies in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's crime lab, testified for the defense that Salgado's blood-alcohol level may have been as high as 0.24 at 1 a.m. April 19.
Prosecutors have held that it was Salgado’s anger at the mention of his former supervisor, Simon Terry-Lloyd, at Downes' home that led to the beating that killed Downes. Maund asked Salgado about the conversation, which witnesses say was sparked by a co-worker asking Downes of his meeting the day before with Terry-Lloyd.
Salgado said he didn’t recall any of the conversation, which reportedly turned to Salgado yelling expletives, saying he hated Terry-Lloyd and that he'd "better not" take his job.
Maund said in her opening statement that for the rest of the evening until the fight outside, Salgado wasn't able to let it go, and that his anger only temporarily subsided after reassuring words from Downes.
Salgado said his only recollection of the time at Downes' home was when he and his co-workers were gathered around the small second-floor bar; Salgado and Downes — who was serving drinks — were on opposite sides. Witnesses have reported the conversation about Terry-Lloyd took place there.
Salgado said his next memory was being awakened outside by "someone," the responding police officer.
"He was asking me why we were there," Salgado said. "I told him I don't know how we got there."
He said he doesn’t remember being arrested, taken into the back of a police car or the photographs that show bloodstains on his blue shirt and dark pants.
He played down the suggestion that he feared losing his job, stating that although some of his job duties crossed over what Terry-Lloyd used to do at the company, Terry-Lloyd's focus was more weighted toward securing funds for large real estate deals. That sort of responsibility was beyond his capacity, he said, though Maund confirmed in cross-examination that he had at least sat in on such deal meetings before.
Maund also asked whether Salgado had a previous problem with drinking too much, to the point where he would wake up on subsequent days and not remember what had occurred the night before. Salgado said he had "sometimes," and that his drinking in the months leading up to April 2013 had caused him to gain weight.
The defense will call one last witness Monday. Closing arguments may be heard Monday or Tuesday. Salgado faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.