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Guilty verdict in murder trial with self-defense claim

A Tucson man was convicted of second-degree murder in a self-defense case that went to the state Supreme Court before the trial began.

Last month, another jury convicted David Rene Garcia, 36, of first-degree murder, but Pima County Superior Court Judge Christopher Browning declared a mistrial after one juror withdrew her guilty verdict and the jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision.

On Thursday, a new jury acquitted Garcia of first-degree murder in the Dec. 5, 2004, shooting death of Alexis Samaniego, 23, but convicted him of the lesser offense, in which proof of premeditation is not required. Browning will sentence Garcia on Dec. 3.

Defense attorney Anthony Payson told jurors in closing arguments Tuesday that Garcia didn’t plan on killing Samaniego during a drug- and alcohol-fueled late-night party.

“David made extremely poor decisions, but he did not commit a crime,” Payson said.

Payson said Garcia feared for his life and that of another man when Samaniego became violent.

“(Garcia) had no motive but self-defense, self-preservation,” Payson said, adding that Garcia stayed at the apartment and was the first to call police.

Deputy County Attorney Mark Diebolt told jurors in the first trial that Garcia shot Samaniego 10 times after inviting him home from a North First Avenue bar for drinks and drugs.

Each time Garcia pulled the trigger of his .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun, Diebolt said in the first trial, he made a conscious effort to kill Samaniego and committed first-degree murder.

Payson said Samaniego attacked Garcia and the other man.

Payson said Garcia did everything he could to get Samaniego out of his apartment after he became belligerent.

Samaniego either threw or pushed an iron coat rack at Garcia and again threatened to kill Garcia before the shooting, Payson said.

In 1996, Arizona lawmakers rewrote the self-defense law that switched the burden of proof from the state to the defense.

Then last year, the Legislature passed a law that says once a defendant declares self-defense, prosecutors must prove otherwise. The law was meant in part to help Garcia and a Phoenix man.

However, in February, the Arizona Supreme Court deemed Garcia exempt because his case predated the 2006 legislation.

Payson said previously that lawmakers haven’t given up on making Arizona’s self-defense law apply retroactively. If it’s successful, Payson said, Garcia would get a retrial in which the state would have to prove he didn’t act in self-defense.

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