EDINBURG — A day after jurors found Peter Uvalle guilty of murder in the shooting death of Jonathan Joseph Alcala, they handed the 20-year-old man a 35-year prison sentence.
It only took jurors three hours to find Uvalle guilty in the Dec. 15, 2017 shooting death of Alcala — who was outside his family’s home at about 1:30 a.m. when Uvalle, a passenger in the GMC pickup truck of his older cousin, Omar Garcia, called out to him and shot him five times as Alcala turned around.
The jurors deliberated for four hours before coming to their decision to give Uvalle the 35-year sentence and a $5,000 fine. Hours earlier, the state and defense, Hidalgo County Assistant District Attorneys Vance W. Gonzales and Ben A. Abila, and Savannah Gonzalez and Lucia “Lucy” Regalado made their final arguments to jurors.
During those final arguments, Vance Gonzales argued that Uvalle should get 10 years for every bullet he shot Alcala with.
“Start with 50, 10 years for every bullet,” Vance Gonzales told jurors. “He doesn’t get sudden passion.”
That reference was to the defense’s attempt to convince jurors that Uvalle acted out of sudden passion when he realized Alcala had a gun — a piece of evidence only heard by jurors when they were played the interrogation video conducted by Pharr police investigators 12 hours after Uvalle was treated for gunshot wounds.
The state underscored the defense’s other argument, that jurors should not punish Uvalle for his indiscretions as a teen, a reference to the state’s admittance of Uvalle’s student records that a Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school administrator testified to during the trial’s final day.
The state also told jurors that Uvalle was convicted of a felony when Uvalle was 12 or 13 years old — to prove that point, they called Uvalle’s neighbor in 2012, 71-year-old Elena Saenz, who testified she would not believe if she were to learn Uvalle was charged with robbery after he admitted to police he had stolen items from Saenz’s residence.
The state called Alcala’s father, Leonel Alcala, who testified he and his family have struggled emotionally, and financially in the aftermath of their son’s death. He was emotional when he was shown photos of Alcala in happier times.
When asked what he felt justice would be for Uvalle, Leonel Alcala responded, “death penalty,” which is not an option for jurors.
Also called to the stand was Uvalle’s mother, Nereyda Uvalle, who testified that some of Uvalle’s behavioral issues could be attributed to a diagnosis of ADHD.
The defense urged jurors to consider anything but a life-time sentence, pointing again to how Uvalle should not be punished for the rest of his life for an act in which he felt like he had to defend himself.
The state told jurors that Uvalle wasn’t innocent, despite his age, he made the decision to shoot Alcala five times, and that he’s shown no remorse for what he did.
On Tuesday, during closing arguments in the guilt/innocence phase, Abila and Vance Gonzales’ argument was that Uvalle targeted Alcala, and that it was not a “drug-deal gone wrong.”
“The defense keeps saying, poor Peter, poor little Peter,” Vance Gonzales exclaimed.
As he concluded his argument, Vance Gonzales told a brief fable.
It was of the “Scorpion and the Frog,” which conveys a message related to inherent nature.
The fable goes that a scorpion asks a frog to help him cross a pond, but the frog, naturally afraid of the scorpion stinging him, declines. But the scorpion, offended by the frog’s denial, states, “Why would I sting you, we would both die.”
So begrudgingly, the frog agrees to help the scorpion swim across a pond. And sure enough the scorpion, while being helped by the frog, stings the frog.
As the frog is dying, and they begin to drown, the frog asks why?
The scorpion replies that it couldn’t help itself, it’s in its nature to do so; Vance Gonzales turned to jurors and said that is who Peter is: “Peter is, who he is.”