Teen Explorer Scout testifies in trial of man in shooting of East Palo Alto police officer
By Jessica Bernstein-Wax
Posted: 10/20/2009 02:22:44 PM PDT
Updated: 10/20/2009 02:22:45 PM PDT
The teenager who was just feet away when East Palo Alto police Officer Richard May was gunned down in 2006 testified this morning at the trial of a 26-year-old man accused of pulling the trigger.
Marco Marquez, an Explorer Scout riding with May on Jan. 7, 2006, only testified for about 20 minutes before San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Craig Parsons said it was time to break for lunch.
In that time, Marquez provided information about May's state of mind the day defendant Alberto Alvarez killed him on Weeks Street in East Palo Alto. Alvarez could face the death penalty if convicted.
May arrived at work early to take a shower because rainy weather had clogged the plumbing at his parents' house, Marquez said, adding that the officer was in a good mood that day.
The two began driving around the city on patrol at about 7:45 a.m., listening to NASCAR and stopping for lunch at the Oakwood Market, said Marquez, who was just 16 when he witnessed the shooting.
"I asked Officer May if I could ride along," Marquez said. "Officer May always liked to have ride-alongs with him, so we would ask him."
Explorer Scouts are youths who receive training at an academy and wear a special uniform while volunteering at police departments. Marquez, now 19, said he joined the program at 14 and has been stationed at the East Palo Alto Police Department for about five years.
The prosecution has said Marquez was in the car with May when he
responded to a report of a fight at the Villa Taqueria on University and Cooley avenues that afternoon. May spotted Alvarez in the street near the restaurant and began following him in his police car.
He later chased Alvarez on foot, telling Marquez to stay in the car, before a scuffle ensued a little way down Weeks Street, San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe has said. Marquez watched the confrontation but ducked down after he heard the first shot, according to prosecutors.
The teenager, who showed up in court in his light-blue Explorer Scout uniform with East Palo Alto patches on both shoulders, will likely provide more details on the shooting during further testimony this afternoon.
Four other witnesses testified before the lunch break: Rafik Shuman, owner of the nearby Pal Market, two San Mateo County dispatchers who were on duty when the 911 calls came in and Maria Loya, a young woman who was at the taqueria when the fight between Alvarez and another man took place.
Loya, who at times seemed reluctant to be on the stand, said Alvarez is related to her aunt's husband.
She testified that Alvarez was at a table in the restaurant when the unknown man confronted him from the door. That man challenged Alvarez to a fight, but the defendant locked the taqueria door, Loya said.
He later got up and unlocked the door, she said. A fistfight ensued after the other man knocked a soda from Alvarez's hand, Loya said.
At issue is whether the other man attacked Alvarez, leaving him shaken and upset, as defense attorneys contend. They say May had no reason to chase their client and strike him with a police baton because he was the victim and didn't match the description of a "shirtless" suspect.
In his opening argument Monday, Wagstaffe painted Alvarez as a violent felon who was an active participant in the fight and stood over the other man punching him in the face.
Judge Parsons has predicted the trial will last until mid-December or longer, depending on whether it enters a penalty phase, when jurors will decide whether Alvarez should receive the death penalty.
Alvarez will only face capital punishment if the jury convicts him of first-degree murder with the special circumstance that May, a 38-year-old father of three, was performing his duties as a police officer when killed. It remains unclear whether Alvarez will testify in his own defense.