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Second day of murder trial reveals details of Downes beating

More details emerged in court Tuesday of the beating that prosecutors say caused the death of well-known San Diego architect Graham Downes in April 2013.

The defendant, Higinio Soriano Salgado, 32, listened as several prosecution witnesses took the stand, including the Bankers Hill resident who called San Diego police to report the altercation across the street.

Salgado is accused of beating Downes outside the victim's home in the early hours of April 19, 2013. The altercation followed several hours of socializing among the two men and several Graham Downes Architecture employees the evening before.

The night that started with an office "happy hour" at the architectural firm's office, continued with Downes and five employees, including Salgado, drinking alcohol at the SRO Lounge — a Bankers Hill bar — and later going to Downes' home in Bankers Hill. It ended with Salgado as the only reported employee left at Downes' home.

Central to the prosecution's case is the testimony of Jeff Kunitz, who at the time lived in an apartment directly across Juniper Street from Downes' home. Kunitz testified Tuesday to waking up about 1 a.m. April 19 to the sound of "loud talking." Kunitz lived on the second story of the building above a street-level parking garage.

Kunitz said he looked out his closed window and across the dimly lit street to see three figures; two appeared to be men and one was a woman. He said one man wore a blue shirt; the other was more difficult to see.

The woman, he said, walked toward the nearby corner of Albatross and Juniper streets where she "disappeared," leaving the two men on the sidewalk in front of Downes' home.

"I tried to go back to bed, but the talking started getting louder and louder," Kunitz said. "Basically, it just seems like one person is upset at the other person."

The man in the blue shirt was louder than the other, he said, and the situation between the two appeared to be getting physical. The man in the blue shirt initiated most of the motion he could see, Kunitz said; the other man stayed in place. Though he perceived aggression to be present in the darkness, Kuntz said he didn't see any punches thrown.

He said he got out of bed again and stepped outside to scare the men. He shined a flashlight in their direction from a balcony outside his apartment and told them he was going to call the police, Kunitz said.

"When I went outside, I shined my light on them, and I yelled at them and nothing happened," Kunitz said. "One was already down at that point."

The man in the blue shirt was "over top" of the one on the ground, he said.

And then he heard "something like a gurgle coming from the guy on the ground," Kunitz said. "So I decided to call the cops at that time."

Salgado defense attorney Jose Badillo questioned Kunitz about what he heard. Kunitz said that because his window was closed, he could not tell what was said, just that voice volumes rose and tones changed.

Badillo also reaffirmed that Kunitz had limited visibility of the street — particularly in front of Downes' home — which Kunitz described as absent a streetlight and somewhat lit only by a light inside the garage of Kunitz' apartment building.

"You don't know what you saw," Badillo said to Kunitz. "You saw movements."

Kunitz answered affirmatively.

The downtown San Diego courtroom of Superior Court Judge Joan P. Weber was not as crowded as on Monday, when Deputy District Attorney Amy Maund and defense attorney Jamahl Kersey presented opening arguments and several prosecution witnesses were called to testify.

Still, murmurs could be heard in the gallery as the prosecution used images of a badly beaten Downes for a second day during questioning of Kerry Perkins, a former crime scene investigator with the San Diego Police Department.

Retired this year, Perkins was assigned to the Downes case after Salgado's arrest. Photos showed Downes at Mercy Hospital before he had been taken off life support, with a swollen, bruised and bandaged face and marks on his neck.

Perkins also went through several photos of Salgado after his arrest, when he was still dressed in the blue-collared shirt, as shown in pictures of the earlier socializing. Photos showed bloodstains on the back of the shirt, side seams, upper chest and shoulders, as well as bloodstains and dirt stains on both legs of his black pants.

The prosecution said testimony from the medical examiner will show that Downes was the victim of from 17 to 21 blunt force trauma injuries to his head. Downes was 56 years old when he was taken off life support April 23, 2013. Determined to have had a blood-alcohol level of 0.23 when he died, Downes stood just over 6 feet tall and weighed 259 pounds. Salgado, who had a blood-alcohol level of 0.15 about four hours after police arrived, is 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 320 pounds.

Maund said the killing was caused by Salgado’s anger at the mention of his former supervisor, Simon Terry-Lloyd, earlier in the evening while co-workers were still at Downes' home. She said that Salgado's dislike of Terry-Lloyd fueled an anger that — although it subsided when Downes tried to reassure Salgado that Terry-Lloyd would not get Salgado's job or return to the architectural firm — ended in a "sense of betrayal" for Salgado and later Downes' death.

Salgado's defense attorneys have argued that Downes' death was not first-degree murder, and said they will present experts on the effects of alcohol consumption. The defense may bring its first witnesses as early as Wednesday, after Maund winds down the prosecution's case.

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