An Atwater man sentenced to life in prison for killing a man with a machete filed paperwork earlier this week in Merced Superior Court, setting the stage to appeal his conviction.
Antonio Cruz Guzman, a 31-year-old ex-construction worker, was convicted of first-degree murder in January by a Merced County jury after a four-day trial.
Judge Marc A. Garcia sentenced Guzman on March 27 to serve 26 years to life in prison for the death of 61-year-old Joseph McDonald.
Guzman’s sentencing report was not available Thursday. It was unclear why the report was sealed in a confidential court file.
McDonald was killed April 28, 2013, during an alcohol-fueled argument outside a home on Valencia Way in Atwater.
Witnesses testified at trial that McDonald and Guzman argued sporadically throughout the day before the fatal incident. Tempers flared again when McDonald, who’d been drinking for several hours, made several racist remarks about Guzman’s boots.
Both men headed to the back of the house, apparently to fight, but Guzman stopped at his truck first and retrieved the machete. Authorities said Guzman had the machete in his truck because of his construction job.
Witnesses said Guzman swung the blade without giving McDonald a chance to fight, but Guzman claimed it was McDonald who threw the first punch and threatened to kill him.
No other witnesses reported seeing McDonald throw a punch or hearing him threaten Guzman, according to trial testimony.
Guzman testified he used the machete to block McDonald’s punches and said all 14 of McDonald’s deep gashes were inflicted when McDonald continuously struck the weapon. On the witness stand, Guzman said he was terrified of McDonald and adamantly denied wanting to fight that day.
Guzman told Deputy District Attorney Thomas Min, the prosecutor in the case, that he did not leave the house because to avoid the fight because, he said, his mind was seized with “a fear trauma.”
However, Dr. Mark Super, the pathologist in the case, testified that nearly all of McDonald’s injuries were defensive wounds.
Guzman claimed to not know that a machete could kill a man until after McDonald was dead and said he never noticed the large amount of blood at the scene.
Atwater police investigators said after Guzman hacked McDonald to death, he tossed the bloody weapon into the nearby garage and drove away. Guzman was arrested later that same night in his bedroom on Crest Road. Officer Jason DaSilva testified that Guzman fought with police and had to be subdued with a stun gun.