It was Roger Yale who started the fight that ended with his death, alleged murderer Gearold Sotolongo testified when he took the stand Tuesday in his own defense.
Sotolongo, 31, contradicted what other witnesses have said about the events of Feb. 13, 2016, when he stabbed Yale in the heart during an altercation at the Hoopa Mini-mart. Under questioning by defense attorney Zack Curtis, Sotolongo denied he and four other people were first arguing with Yale across the street from the mini-mart, then followed him while challenging him to fight.
“We were just going in the same direction,” Sotolongo said. He also denied other witness statements that Yale, while trying to avoid his pursuers, said he didn’t want to fight.
“Roger Yale never backs down,” Sotolongo insisted.
Surveillance video shows the group, except for Sotolongo, leaving the mini-mart. Yale sits down on a curb in apparent relief. According to Sotolongo he walked past Yale and Yale began insulting him and threatening to kill him. Sotolongo said Yale told him “I’ll lay you out like your uncle.”
His uncle Robert Blake, also known as Robert Colegrove, testified earlier in the trial that Yale and another man hit him over the head and left him in a coma.
Sotolongo said Yale “looked crazy” and seemed to be under the influence of methamphetamine. They struggled, with Sotolongo trying to grab Yale’s wrist. Yale carried a stick and Sotolongo knew he carried a knife because he had seen it earlier that morning.
Sotolongo, packing a switchblade knife he says he found under a bridge, eventually “stabbed at” Yale, who fell to the ground.
“Did you believe Roger Yale was fatally wounded?” Curtis asked.
“No,” Sotolongo said. In fact, he was afraid Yale might follow him and take up the fight again.
Sotolongo described Yale’s outburst as out of the blue, because he and Sotolongo hadn’t been arguing earlier. Sotolongo said it was Ed Davis, a man in his group, who was harassing Yale over $26 that Yale’s brother owed him. Yale refused to pay either the $26 or a partial payment of $5.
Sotolongo said he’d known Yale all his life and considered him a friend. He had no intention of killing him.
Deputy District Attorney Roger Rees, cross-examining Sotolongo, asked him “You stabbed Roger Yale in the chest because his brother owed Ed David twenty-six dollars?”
“You stabbed him because he wouldn’t give Ed Davis a five-dollar down payment?”
Rees switched gears.
“You really enjoy fighting, don’t you?”
Rees then asked Sotolongo about the many fights he’s been in during his six-plus years in Humboldt County Correctional Facility. There was a long list of names, including now-convicted murderers Maxx Robison and Ulisses Rodriguez.
Sotolongo said that his cultural belief is he is obligated to beat up certain people in certain circumstances. Rodriguez, for example, is Hispanic. He also defended his attack on fellow inmate Sundust Holland. On Tuesday jurors watched a video of Sotolongo repeatedly punching Holland, who offered no resistance.
Sotolongo said he had asked Holland about “an incident,” and when he didn’t like what Holland told him, he gave him the choice of leaving or being beat up. Holland stayed, so Sotolongo had to attack him.
At the end of the video Sotolongo drops face-down to the ground. He testified a correctional officer had ordered him down. Rees asked whether he always obeyed officers’s orders.
“I’m not supposed to,” he said. “But I often do.”
Sotolongo denied he cut his long hair and shaved his full beard after the killing to disguise his appearance. He shaved and got a haircut “because a family member had died,” he said.
Sotolongo said he was arrested March 3, 2016, but jail records indicate he was booked on March 9. The weapon used on Yale was never found. Sotolongo said he gave the knife to Ed Davis, who has since moved from the Hoopa area.
Cross-examination was expected to continue this morning. Judge Larry Killoran is presiding over the trial.
- SOTOLONGO TRIAL: Eyewitnesses Recall Fatal Stabbing at the Hoopa Mini-Mart Six Years Ago
- SOTOLONGO TRIAL: More Witnesses Identify the Accused as the Person Who Stabbed Victim in the Heart
- SOTOLONGO TRIAL: New Evidence Shows That Victim in Hoopa Stabbing Was Carrying Knife in His Pocket
- SOTOLONGO TRIAL: Defense Witnesses Say Victim Had Threatened the Accused’s Life and Beaten His Uncle Into a Coma in the Weeks Before the Stabbing