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Restaurant owner's second arson trial begins

Testimony continued Tuesday in the second trial of a Merced steakhouse owner accused of burning down his restaurant in order to collect the insurance money.

Defendant Adolfo Pulido, former owner of "Big Al's Steakhouse and Cantina," faces a maximum of eight years in prison, if a Merced County jury finds him guilty of felony arson and insurance fraud charges.

Pulido was arrested by Merced police as the sole suspect in the April 4, 2003 fire, which caused $900,000 in damage to the 3040 Park Ave. Although no one was hurt in the fire, it damaged two adjacent businesses, Bagel Tyme and California Tanning Co.

His first trial in 2007 ended in a hung jury by 11-1 vote, with the majority of jurors favoring a guilty verdict. Opening statements in his latest trial began Thursday.

Prosecutor Walter Wall said he didn't want to discuss the key elements of the case while the trial's in session.

Defense Attorney John Garcia described his client as a hard-working family man, who started the restaurant as a "dream" with his wife.

Garcia said the restaurant had only been open for less than three months when the blaze happened -- and it would not have been "feasible" for Pulido to destroy his own business. "There's no evidence that directly ties my client to the arson," Garcia said.

Pulido remains free on bail. The duration of trial is expected to be at least two weeks.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.

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