State - INACTIVE

Music dispute ends in death, hit-and-run trial in Modesto

It was an age-old dispute: two young men blasting window-rattling music on a north Modesto residential street, and an older neighbor annoyed enough to confront them.

But the result of the May 2008 argument was anything but typical. Mario Martinez, 25, would be declared brain dead days later, his skull fractured in a fall off the roof of a gold Lexus driven by 47-year-old William Gibbs, prosecutors said.

Now a jury must decide if Gibbs, a grant writer for a nonprofit housing organization, was guilty of crimes that could put him behind bars for as many as 11 years.

Prosecutor Nate Baker said Martinez's body was found in a pool of blood 83 feet from the house where Gibbs first confronted Martinez and a friend about loud music coming from a truck. He said Gibbs hit Martinez with enough force to throw him on the hood of his car, then the roof, as Martinez walked around the front bumper to confront Gibbs.

"Killing Mario Martinez was not justified," Baker said.

But defense attorney Steve Foley claimed Gibbs was acting in self-defense, startled into action when a "very drunk, very angry" Martinez stormed Gibbs' car, climbing up the hood of his Lexus. He showed the jury a picture of Martinez's friend, Carl Delariva, who smiled at the camera while showing off his chest tattoo and gold chains.

What chance would a middle-aged, stocky man have in a fight against those two, Foley asked jurors.

"That's going to be pretty intimidating," Foley said. "Mr. Gibbs is allowed to protect himself."

Gibbs is not charged with murder but with gross vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run causing death. That means a jury must find Gibbs was "grossly negligent" by hitting the gas and then fleeing the scene.

Baker also said Gibbs' actions after the accident are telling. Gibbs testified he went to get his car washed after the collision because it was on his "honey-do" list.

He didn't return to work, leaving his computer on and his files on his desk at his office near the Reseda Lane crime scene.

Gibbs acknowledged he did not call the police or tell his wife what happened until after they came looking for him.

But Baker told the jury they didn't need to decide Gibbs was "a monster" to convict him.

"Even decent people make stupid mistakes," Baker said.

Jurors will continue deliberations Monday.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.

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