Homicide defendant Antonio Cruz Guzman said Friday he did not realize a machete could kill a man until it was too late.
“I didn’t know,” Guzman said from the witness stand. “You know, like, I didn’t think that something this terrible was going to happen, this grave.”
The 31-year-old construction worker has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in connection with the April 28 death of 61-year-old Joseph McDonald at a home on Valencia Way in Atwater.
Speaking through a Spanish interpreter, Guzman testified Friday, the third day of his trial in Merced Superior Court before Judge Marc A. Garcia.
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In her opening statement Friday, Deputy Public Defender Kim Boortz told the jury that her client was simply defending himself.
“After you hear from Antonio, you’ll understand why this happened,” Boortz said.
Guzman’s version of his fight with McDonald differed significantly from the testimony of other witnesses.
He said McDonald started the argument that led to the fight, threw the first punch and threatened to kill him. He said he used the machete in self-defense and that nearly all of the 14 injuries McDonald suffered were self-inflicted.
He said McDonald slashed and cut his own arms against the machete each time Guzman blocked a blow.
Other witnesses said McDonald never threw a punch.
Thomas Min, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, appeared incredulous. The prosecutor showed a series of gruesome autopsy photographs and pointed to various deep gashes in McDonald’s neck, arms and hands.
“Are you saying Mr. McDonald cut off his own finger while he supposedly attacked you?” Min asked.
“Yes, because when you’re being attacked and the weapon is so sharp and when he tried to grab it, that could’ve happened,” Guzman replied. “He didn’t stop throwing blows, and I was trying to dodge him.”
Guzman also said he never saw McDonald bleeding, even after the fighting stopped.
The argument began, Guzman said, when McDonald made a series of remarks about Guzman’s boots.
“He said he could make much better boots in prison because these were just Mexican boots,” the defendant said.
Guzman said he started to walk toward his truck to get away from McDonald. He opened the passenger-side door, hoping McDonald would leave him alone, but McDonald punched him, Guzman said. He nearly fell to the ground and then retrieved the machete from the bed of his truck, he said.
Other witnesses said Guzman pulled the blade from the truck’s cab.
Min asked why Guzman didn’t just leave. The defendant said his mind was seized with “a fear trauma.”
“It was fear and, like, my legs were with fear,” he said. “I felt weak.”
“You actually wanted to fight Mr. McDonald, didn’t you?” Min insisted. “He made the comment about cheap Mexican boots and that hurt your pride, right?”
“Not my pride, but he’s discriminating if you’re Mexican,” Guzman replied, and said he never wanted to fight McDonald.
Guzman denied threatening anyone else with the machete after the incident with McDonald.
The defense case suffered a logistical setback on Friday when a key witness apparently ignored a subpoena and failed to appear to testify. Judge Garcia issued a $100,000 arrest warrant for the witness, whose name is being withheld by the Sun-Star.
The judge told jurors he expects deliberations to begin when the trial concludes Tuesday.