A jury has convicted Higinio Soriano Salgado on a charge of second-degree murder in the killing of prominent architect Graham Downes, who was fatally beaten in front of his home last April.
Salgado will be sentenced on June 6 in the downtown San Diego courtroom of San Diego Superior Court Judge Joan P. Weber.
Salgado, 32, was charged with first-degree murder, of which the jury found him not guilty. Second-degree murder was the most serious of the three lesser-included offenses.
"It was the right verdict," Deputy District Attorney Amy Maund said. "Difficult issues. It was a brutal, violent beating -- murder, and the jury saw it the same way we saw it."
Maund made no distinction between a second-degree murder conviction and one for first-degree murder, saying the district attorney's office is satisfied.
Salgado, she said, could face a sentence of 15 years to life in prison. A conviction of first-degree murder would have come with a prison sentence of 25 years to life.
In the trial that made alcohol intoxication central to Salgado's defense, jurors concluded that he was responsible for beating Downes, his boss at the time, in the early hours of April 19, 2013, and leaving him fatally injured. The incident, which took place in front of Downes' Bankers Hill home, was witnessed by a neighbor living directly across the street from the home. Another witness, who was somewhat farther away in the neighborhood, testified to only hearing the altercation as it progressed.
Prosecutors built a case centered on Salgado's relationship with a former supervisor of his within Downes' real estate development company. The man, Simon Terry-Lloyd, hadn't worked for Downes since 2011. But an April 17, 2013 meeting between he and Downes was said by prosecutors to be the foundation of a "sense of betrayal" that Salgado would harbor against Downes until he killed him.
Salgado's attorneys, Jose Badillo and Jamahl Kersey, argued that since neither of the altercation's witnesses had reported definitively seeing injurious blows, the conclusion could not be made that Salgado was the aggressor. Salgado testified to being so drunk that he could not recall but a few flashes of the late night, and that he didn't know if he'd even fought Downes.
"It's difficult to know what [the jury] thought about and what their reasoning was," Badillo, who called the case "tragic," said of the jury's decision. "We respect the verdict; we just disagree with it."
Alcohol intoxication was discussed heavily throughout the trial.
Much time was spent on witnesses detailing events from the evening of April 18, 2013. Downes hosted a company-wide "happy hour" at his office that evening, and later went with five employees — including Salgado — to a Bankers Hill bar before hosting them at his house for more drinks. Witnesses placed Salgado as the last guest to remain, and said that a conversation earlier about Terry-Lloyd had set off a brief but expletive-laden reaction from Salgado. Witnesses said Salgado pointed in Downes' direction and said Terry-Lloyd had "better not" take his job.
The defense relied upon the testimony of a forensic psychiatrist and forensic chemist to illustrate alcohol's effect when a person's blood alcohol level reaches around 0.20 or above — a level within the ballpark of both prosecution and defense estimates for Salgado's condition at the time of the altercation.
Badillo gave no indication of second-guessing the defense's approach in arguing that Salgado had suffered an alcohol-induced blackout that left him unable to control his actions or remember them after the fact.
"The law allows for that defense," Badillo added. "I think the jury had everything they needed to consider and render their decision. It was in their hands and they made their decision accordingly."