Witness changes her story amid grisly court testimony in Atwater machete homicide trial

Rachel Sanchez did not tell police she saw her friend, Joseph McDonald, hacked to death last year with a machete.

Instead, she lied to police and told them she was not there, Sanchez said Thursday.

Sanchez stuck to that story until Wednesday, when she told the attorneys in the case she witnessed defendant Antonio Cruz Guzman attack and kill McDonald.

McDonald, 61, died April 28 at a home on Valencia Way in Atwater after he was repeatedly struck with the long, hooked cleaver. Guzman, 31, has pleaded not guilty in connection with McDonald’s death.

Sanchez testified Thursday during the second day of Guzman’s trial before Judge Marc A. Garcia in Merced Superior Court.

On the witness stand, Sanchez admitted lying to police because, she said, Guzman threatened her with the machete after allegedly killing McDonald. Sanchez said she believed Guzman would hurt her, and was terrified and traumatized.

“He (Guzman) chopped him up,” Sanchez testified. “There was a large puddle of blood everywhere. I seen half of his head was off.”

Sanchez said she decided to change her story because Guzman is now behind bars at the Merced County jail and she is no longer afraid of him.

As McDonald lay on the lawn bleeding from his neck, Sanchez said, he asked her “What happened?” and “Who did it?” Sanchez, who described McDonald as being in shock, said he hugged her and spoke his last words.

“He said: ‘If anything happens, I want you to know I love you,’ ” Sanchez testified.

Sanchez’s version of the events leading up to the grisly death differed from other accounts. Specifically, Sanchez said another woman at the home, Bonnie Aguilar, was at least partly to blame for “instigating” a fight between the two men.

“She just persistently kept on hitting (McDonald). She slapped him pretty good. She was intoxicated. She kept picking on him, hitting him, and she kept whispering little things in Antonio’s ear,” Sanchez said. “It was all day. She wouldn’t stop.”

Sanchez said Aguilar continuously encouraged Guzman to fight McDonald throughout the day.

Aguilar testified Wednesday that the violence was sparked after the two men argued for several hours about the boots Guzman was wearing.

After the incident, several witnesses said, Guzman tossed the bloody weapon into a nearby garage and left in his vehicle.

Officer Jason DaSilva testified earlier this week that police found Guzman later that same night in bed at his home on Crest Road. DaSilva said he used his Taser to subdue Guzman because he refused to cooperate with police.

Deputy District Attorney Thomas Min completed the prosecution’s case late Thursday afternoon.

Deputy Public Defender Kim Boortz is expected to present the defense’s case this morning. At least one witness is scheduled to testify, but it remained unclear Thursday whether Guzman plans to take the stand.

Closing arguments are expected to take place today.