As murder suspect Gearold Sotolongo’s attorney builds a case for self-defense, witnesses testified yesterday that victim Roger Yale had threatened to kill Sotolongo and had once beaten one witness into a coma.
Witness Robert Blake, Sotolongo’s uncle, testified he woke up in the hospital, not knowing what happened, but the people who called the ambulance told him later that Yale and another man came up behind him and hit him over the head.
Defense attorney Zack Curtis called Blake and two other witnesses after the prosecution rested its case this morning. Blake not only testified that Yale left him in a coma, but that Yale told Sotolongo he was going to kill him during a separate altercation at a Hoopa home.
Both incidents occurred in the weeks before Sotolongo allegedly stabbed Yale in the heart outside the Hoopa Mini-mart on Feb. 13, 2016.
Blake, Misgilo Moon and Moon’s partner Shelby Surber all testified they were there when Yale pointed at Sotolongo and said either “I’m going to kill you too, motherfucker,” or “Fuck you, I’m going to kill you too.”
Neither Moon nor Surber could recall whose home they were at, but Blake said they were at a party at the home of Sylvia Moon.
Curtis presented an opening statement to the jury this morning before he began calling his witnesses. He said Sotolongo was just hanging out the morning of the killing, hoping to collect enough money to buy a bottle of liquor. During an episode across the street from the mini-mart, Curtis said, Yale pulled out a knife and brandished it at Sotolongo, because “for some reason” Yale had a grudge against Sotolongo.
Also, Curtis told the jury, Sotolongo was upset that Yale attacked Blake, as in “I don’t think it’s very cool that you beat up my uncle.”
Video surveillance shows Yale interacting with Sotolongo and a group of people, with the group dispersing and Yale, in seeming relief, sitting down on the curb in front of the mini-mart. Sotolongo walks toward Yale. According to Curtis, Sotolongo just wanted to buy a bottle. But then he turns toward Yale because, Curtis said, Yale was “yelling threats and insults as he sat there.”
Curtis said Yale took a couple of steps toward Sotolongo, with Sotolongo aware that Yale “had a knife in his pocket and a stick in his hand.”
“He tried to grab Mr. Yale’s hand and control it,” Curtis told the jury. When he couldn’t, “he did what he had to do.”
What Sotolongo did was stab Yale between the ribs, with the blade puncturing his heart.
“Keep in mind Mr. Sotolongo didn’t know Roger Yale had a fatal wound,” Curtis said. “Roger Yale didn’t know. He thought he was going to shake it off.”
After he was stabbed, Yale went into the mini-mart and asked for a paper towel.
All three witnesses faced a withering cross-examination by Deputy District Attorney Roger Rees, who is the trial prosecutor along with Deputy District Attorney Jessica Watson.
Blake, for example, admitted he has a slew of felony convictions, including arson. He is a registered sex offender and has spent time in prisons at San Quentin, Susanville and Vacaville.
Moon has one felony conviction for assault with serious bodily injury, with his mother a co-defendant. When Rees asked him about that, he couldn’t remember what he was convicted of or when.
“You remember with exacting detail what happened 30 days before Mr. Sotolongo killed Mr. Yale,” Rees said, referring to the incident in which Yale allegedly threatened Sotolongo with death. But, Rees said, Moon couldn’t remember what he was convicted of and when.
Moon and Surber said they didn’t tell authorities about Yale’s threat to Sotolongo until just a few weeks ago. Sotolongo has been behind bars for more than six years.
“I didn’t know who to tell,” Moon said. He has visited Sotolongo numerous times in jail and also has talked to him on the phone a number of times.
Both Yale and Sotolongo, back in their high school days, were renowned wrestlers. Was Sotolongo afraid of Yale because of his wrestling reputation, or was Sotolongo superior?
“He was the pitbull of our family,” Blake told an investigator. “Roger was scared of him.”
Rees brought up that Moon attended an April hearing at which attorneys were talking about the witness list. At the end of the hearing, Moon told Sotolongo “Get me that list.”
Testimony was expected to continue this morning before Judge Larry Killoran.