The victim in a road-rage shooting last year is to blame for his own death, the attorney representing the shooting suspect told jurors Wednesday.
Andres Buelna, 25, is accused of shooting Benny Alvarez Casarez, 50, to death in the parking lot of the Jack in the Box restaurant near Campbell Avenue and Fort Lowell Road in August 2011.
Jurors are being asked to decide if Buelna is guilty of second-degree murder or if he acted in self-defense that afternoon.
The attorneys on both sides agree Casarez was driving his Ford Mustang GT aggressively that afternoon, speeding and weaving in and out of traffic. They also agree Casarez had to slow down abruptly and then drive into the center turn lane to get past Buelna a few blocks earlier on North Campbell Avenue near East Glenn Street.
Prosecutor Danielle Constant and defense attorney Michael Piccarreta disagree about what happened over the next few minutes, however.
Constant told jurors Buelna purposely followed Casarez into the Jack in the Box parking lot and shot him dead.
Piccarreta admitted Casarez had to slow down when he first encountered Buelna because Buelna tapped his brakes. Casarez was right on his rear end, Piccarreta said.
However, Buelna didn't choose to follow Casarez; he simply remained in the same lane after Casarez passed him, Piccarreta said.
After Casarez jammed on his brakes twice, Buelna decided to turn off into the Jack in the Box and end the confrontation, Piccarreta said. Casarez ended up making the turn first, making his tires squeal in the process.
Casarez then quickly parked his car, jumped out and came at Buelna's truck yelling expletives and screaming threats, Piccarreta said.
"Andres is scared out of his mind," Piccarreta said.
Buelna, who stayed in the truck, displayed his gun, hoping Casarez would back off, but he didn't, Piccarreta said. The warning shot he fired didn't work either, the defense attorney said.
"He keeps coming and now he's close to the car," Piccarreta said, so his client turned his head, fired twice and fled.
Instead of calling the police, Piccarreta said, Buelna stupidly ditched his truck and the gun, withdrew money from the bank and hid out at a motel.
When police found Buelna the next night, Piccarreta said he fully cooperated with them. He gave them a statement and took them to the truck and the gun.
Piccarreta told jurors they needed to ask themselves what a "reasonable person" would do if he, too, thought he was about to be assaulted and had five to seven seconds to make a decision.
Constant told jurors Buelna had several opportunities to de-escalate the situation.
"It didn't have to come to the end the way it did," Constant said. "There were so many ways it could've been avoided."
The defense lost a pre-trial motion that would have allowed it to present evidence Casarez had cocaine in his system when he died.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Scott Rash is presiding over the trial.
On StarNet: Follow the news and events at Pima County's courthouses in Kim Smith's blog, At the Courthouse, at azstarnet.com/courthouse
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org