‘Arturo killed Maria,’ defense attorney admits; calls it crime of passion
Arturo Navarrete-Portillo’s defense told the jury in opening statements Monday that it was not being asked to acquit the man facing charges of first-degree murder and child abuse. Rather, defense counsel asked the jury to find him guilty of second-degree murder, committed in the heat of passion.
Navarrete-Portillo is accused of killing his wife with a machete in their Carbondale apartment early one February morning in 2015. Later that morning, Navarrete-Portillo crashed his SUV into the back of a cattle truck, in what police say was a suicide attempt.
On a medical flight from Valley View Hospital to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Navarrete-Portillo told a flight crew paramedic that he didn’t want to live anymore. The paramedic testified Monday that during the flight Navarrete-Portillo was shouting, as if praying, “God, do not cure me.”
Investigators say the defendant later admitted to killing his wife to medical professionals at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, and then to law enforcement, setting off a search for the body in Carbondale.
“Arturo killed Maria; that’s not in dispute here,” said Public Defender Molly Owens. What the trial is about is how and why he killed her, she said.
Navarrete-Portillo “never planned to kill” Maria Carminda Portillo-Amaya, she said. He killed her because “intoxication and provocation overcame reason,” and “she hurt him where she knew she would hurt him the most,” Owens repeated several times during her presentation. Premeditation is a key element of a first-degree murder conviction.
The defense has not yet elaborated on what provocation it believes the defendant’s wife made the night of her death.
Both the prosecution and defense said that during the day leading up to Portillo-Amaya’s death, the couple had both been drinking, enjoying a day off of work. The defense asserts they were drinking heavily, pointing to the Modelo beers, the bottle of wine and two bottles of whiskey police would find in the room.
Navarrete-Portillo’s 6-year-old son from a different relationship was staying with the two at the time.
The couple got into an argument early in the morning of Feb. 16. A little after 3:30 a.m. Portillo-Amaya took six photos of her bloodied face after Navarrete-Portillo had beaten her, said Deputy District Attorney Matthew Barrett.
Barrett pulled up these six photos for the jury to view on a flat screen television.
Moments later, the defendant escalated the argument and retrieved a machete from the closet. He walked back over to Portillo-Amaya and struck her repeatedly in the face with that machete, nearly severing her spinal chord and knocking her teeth out, said Barrett.
But Navarrete-Portillo didn’t plan to kill Portillo-Amaya, said Owens. That his child was nearby in the same room demonstrates that, she said.
She described the attack as “shockingly fast,” something Navarrete-Portillo didn’t grasp was happening until he’d already done it.
Later, he’d have trouble explaining to law enforcement what had happened and why, she said.
“At the end of this trial you will know what a sudden act of violence looks like; you’ll know that her death was not planned,” Owens told the jury.
The defense displayed a crime scene photo of Portillo-Amaya’s corpse lying on a bed with blood splattered on the wall behind her body.
Experts will say the crime scene evidence shows the attack was over in moments, said Owens.
Owens said the defense team was going to ask the jury “to do something extraordinary,” to look at difficult evidence, carefully analyze it and see that it was a sudden attack committed in the heat of passion.
Following opening statements, the prosecution called its first eight witnesses, starting with the emergency responders who interacted with Navarrete-Portillo following the crash on Highway 133 and who responded to the homicide scene.
The medical flight paramedic and a nurse at St. Mary’s testified about the incriminating statements the defendant made while in their care.
The prosecution also called to the witness stand the landlady who sublet a room in her apartment to Navarrete-Portillo and his wife. She was the person who discovered Portillo-Amaya’s body.
The prosecution showed more graphic crime scene photos and video to the jury, pointing out where blood had splattered all the way up the wall. The footage showed up-close shots of the victim. A few jurors held their hands over their mouths as they watched. Prosecutors noted that the blanket covering her body was spotless, suggesting that Navarrete-Portillo had covered her up after the fact. They pointed out the machete had been placed tip-down, leaning against the wall rather than thrown to the floor.
Prosecutors also questioned the two Carbondale officers that responded to the homicide scene. In the crime scene photos, prosecutors pointed out other knives and bottles that could have been reached more easily than the tucked-away machete, suggesting the attack was not an act of sudden, blind rage.
Monday was the first day of trial following four days of jury selection. The trial is scheduled through June 13.
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