Atwater man found guilty in machete killing

After deliberating less than a full day, a Merced County jury on Wednesday convicted a 31-year-old Atwater resident of first-degree murder for killing a man with a machete.

Antonio Cruz Guzman was found guilty of premeditated murder by a jury of eight men and four women after a four-day trial in Merced Superior Court before Judge Marc A. Garcia.

Guzman admitted during the trial that he killed 61-year-old Joseph McDonald with a machete April 28 outside a home on Valencia Way in Atwater, but he claimed the killing was self defense.

Deputy Public Defender Kim Boortz said she was “obviously disappointed” with the verdict. Boortz argued for an acquittal and told jurors the case against her client, at most, amounted to voluntary manslaughter. “After he is sentenced, he’ll most likely file an appeal,” Boortz said outside the courthouse Wednesday.

Thomas Min, the Merced County deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case, said it was too early to comment on the penalty Guzman is to receive. The defendant faces a potential life term in prison. He was ordered to return to court March 27 for sentencing.

“I think the victim’s family would be happy with the verdict,” Min said.

Witnesses testified at trial that Guzman and McDonald were arguing off and on in the hours leading up to the fatal attack, and the confrontation boiled over after McDonald made a racial remark about Guzman’s boots. Both men walked toward the back of the house, apparently to fight, but Guzman stopped at his truck first, witnesses said.

Several witnesses said Guzman retrieved the machete from the truck’s cab, but Guzman said he grabbed it from the truck’s bed. Witnesses said Guzman then attacked McDonald with the blade before McDonald had a chance to fight. Guzman, however, said McDonald threatened to kill him and threw the first punch.

No other witnesses reported seeing McDonald throw a punch or hearing him threaten Guzman, according to trial testimony.

Testifying with the aid of a Spanish interpreter, Guzman claimed that most of McDonald’s 14 deep gashes and other injuries were inflicted when he kept swinging wildly at Guzman, who claimed he used the machete to primarily block the punches.

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.

Following the jury’s verdict, Judge Garcia ordered a full sentencing report on Guzman from the Merced County Probation Department.

Guzman remains in custody without bail at the Merced County jail.