Navarrete-Portillo describes his drunken rage
Arturo Navarrete-Portillo testified Monday in his first-degree murder trial that his wife told him about cheating on him, which he said sent him into an unconscious rage after a day and a half of drinking.
At the end of testimony Monday, the defense rested, and the prosecution had no rebuttal evidence to present. The jury is expected to get the case to begin deliberations on Wednesday.
In her opening statements last week, Public Defender Molly Owens said that “intoxication and provocation overcame reason” the moment Navarrete-Portillo killed his wife, Maria Carminda Portillo-Amaya, in February 2015.
From the beginning, the defense has admitted Navarrete-Portillo killed his wife. But his attorneys have argued against some of the key elements of first-degree murder, namely that it was a premeditated, intentional killing. Instead, they’re arguing that it was a second-degree murder, committed in a sudden heat of passion.
Some of the early testimony in the case dealt with how intoxicated the defendant may have been at the time of the killing and what effect that would have had on his judgment and rationality. His blood alcohol content was at 0.237 — nearly three times the level for legal intoxication — about four hours after Portillo-Amaya’s estimated time of death. No one knows, however, if he drank between the killing and when he slammed his SUV into the back of a cattle truck in what he later told authorities was a suicide attempt.
Monday morning the defendant sat in the witness box and walked the jury through his story of the night of the murder.
After the couple had spent a day and a night drinking to celebrate a day off and a belated Valentine’s Day, Navarrete-Portillo’s wife told him another man made love to her better and that he was useless, the defendant testified.
The defendant said that at some point that night he’d bloodied her face by hitting her, though at times he said he didn’t remember doing this. He believed she grew angry that he’d hit her, and that’s when she told him about the other man.
He testified that her words destroyed him and that he felt like dying.
He described the moments when he hacked at his wife’s face with a machete as though he wasn’t quite there. In the moment after he’d attacked his wife, “I felt like I just woke up,” he testified.
Navarrete-Portillo said he didn’t remember putting the machete down or covering his wife with a blanket.
Navarrete-Portillo said that he knew the man to whom his wife was referring. Months earlier, while the defendant and his wife were separated, he said he saw her with this man.
He said they were “interacting like a couple” and that it was very difficult for him to see and believe.
Still, he testified that he did not want to kill her at that time, nor did he begin planning her death. Navarrete-Portillo said repeatedly that he loved his wife very much.
Deputy District Attorney Matthew Barrett said the defendant lied to investigators in three different interviews in the days following the killing. In the first two, Navarrete-Portillo said he’d struck his wife twice with the machete and denied that his motivation was his wife seeing another man.
Navarrete-Portillo wept and struggled to respond to questions through much of his testimony.
Barrett recalled the story about a suicide pact that Navarrete-Portillo had told police about nine days after the killing.
In that interview, “You wept uncontrollably and cried inconsolably as you wove a tale that wasn’t true, right?” Barrett asked him.
“My tears were truthful, and that was the truth. But what I was saying were lies,” the defendant said.
Under questioning by Public Defender Elise Myer, he said he made up the story about a suicide pact with his wife because he was ashamed of the real reason he’d killed her.
Navarrete-Portillo had nine days to come up with that story, and since then he’s had another 474 days to come up with this one for the jury, Barrett said.
PATHOLOGIST RETAKES STAND
Also on Monday, prosecutors recalled forensic pathologist Robert Kurtzman, who initially testified last week. After researching a jury question, the doctor realized he’d given incorrect testimony and had to return.
Kurtzman originally testified about the wounds Portillo-Amaya sustained in the attack. He estimated that she was struck between five and 10 times.
One of these blows cut so deep it nearly severed her spinal cord. Though his initial testimony was that Portillo-Amaya would still be able to manage some breathing after this blow, he returned to state the opposite opinion, that this critical strike would have made her unable to breathe.
These facts give a better idea of when this critical blow came, though it’s still impossible to say exactly when, said Kurtzman. First, blood was found in the victim’s lungs, which means the damage to her spinal cord didn’t come with the first blow.
The cuts on her arms are consistent with defensive injuries, he said. To throw your arms up to defend yourself from an attack, your spinal cord must be intact, he said.
Before attorneys will make closing arguments they’ll have to work out jury instructions with the court, which they’re planning to finish Tuesday outside of the jury’s presence.
Closing arguments are expected Wednesday morning, and Judge James Boyd expects the jury will be handed the case for deliberation midday.
How long it will take the jury to deliberate, especially in a case like this, is impossible to say, said Boyd. He asked jurors to keep Thursday available.
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