Hearing opens in
Buena Vista Park murder case
by Seth Hemmelgarn
A man accused of strangling another man to death in San Francisco's Buena Vista Park last year said the victim had asked to be choked during sex, a police inspector testified in court this week.
David Munoz Diaz, 23, faces felony counts of murder and robbery, among other charges, in the death of Freddy Canul-Arguello, 23. Canul-Arguello's burning, half-naked body was found before dawn June 10, 2011 on a steep hill near a burnt blue recycling bin.
During the preliminary hearing, which began Monday, October 29 in San Francisco Superior Court, police homicide Inspector Daniel Dedet described Diaz's account of that night and his numerous calls to 911 after the incident.
Dedet said that the two men were seen in the Castro neighborhood just hours before Canul-Arguello's body was found. Diaz said that the two had gone to the park, where "Freddy asked him to choke him" during sexual activity, which he did, Dedet told Assistant District Attorney Heather Trevisan. He said that the two persisted in sex acts, and he continued to ask Diaz to choke him, according to Dedet.
The last time, Diaz got him in "some kind of chokehold," and when he let go, Canul-Arguello collapsed, Dedet said the defendant had told him.
Diaz "didn't know what to do," Dedet said. He smoked a cigarette, then grabbed a recycling bin, set it on fire, and rolled it downhill toward Canul-Arguello. The bin fell on top of him, Dedet said Diaz told him.
Dedet indicated Diaz had given conflicting details of what positions they'd been in during the encounter and called Diaz's account "confusing." Diaz hadn't had Canul-Arguello in a chokehold for very long, Dedet said based on his interview with the defendant.
He said that during his July 22, 2011 interview with Diaz, Diaz initially said another man had killed Canul-Arguello, but "ultimately, he said he killed Freddy" while they were involved in "sexual activity." Diaz was arrested that day.
Dedet said that he suspected Diaz earlier that month after reviewing calls Diaz made to 911 from his and Canul-Arguello's phones.
During his testimony Monday, homicide Inspector Robert Velarde said a woman who lived near the park saw an "orange glow" the morning Canul-Arguello was found and called 911.
She then went outside and saw Diaz, who speaks Spanish, on the phone appearing to have trouble communicating with a 911 dispatcher. She got on the phone to assist him, Velarde confirmed to Deputy Public Defender Alex Lilien.
While addressing Velarde, Lilien worked to lay out a timeline. A fire alarm call box was activated at 4:17 a.m. The neighbor called 911 at 4:39 and assisted Diaz at 4:48, he said. There were two more calls, including a hang up, within minutes.
Dedet said the last three calls, plus a 5:07 call, came from Canul-Arguello's phone.
In the last call from Canul-Arguello's phone, Dedet told Lilien, Diaz called 911 and stated he'd just killed a "joto," a Spanish word equivalent to "faggot." Lilien asked if the caller had also referred to "a bunch of faggot whores who should never be born," and Dedet said that sounded correct.
Diaz gave the dispatcher a number to call if they wanted to help. Apparently by mistake, he gave his own number, Dedet said.
The police inspector said he thought that Diaz had "inadvertently" given his own number. Lilien suggested Diaz had been "in the midst of panic" and had been making up "fantastical" things.
Dedet said at 5:34 a.m., a 911 call came from Diaz's phone, but the call was disconnected. A dispatcher called back two minutes later, and Diaz said he'd received a call from a blocked number, and the person told him "he'd killed a joto and he's next," Dedet testified. The dispatcher told Diaz to go to a police station and make a report. It appears that didn't happen.
In his testimony Monday, Dedet said that Diaz has acknowledged making all of the calls.
Lilien, who's previously said the men had been having consensual sex in the park the morning Canul-Arguello died and called the death "a terrible accident," has also said Diaz called 911 and indicated that Diaz set the fire in order to get help.
Canul-Arguello's body was charred in some places and melted blue plastic was found on his face and other parts of his body. His underwear was around his knees, inside-out. The medical examiner's office determined the cause of death was asphyxia due to strangulation.
Throughout the hearing, Diaz, who's in custody, sat next to Lilien, wearing headphones so he could listen to testimony through a Spanish interpreter. Lilien has said his client is "a sweet kid." Canul-Arguello's brother and friends have said Canul-Arguello was a kind, fun-loving gay man.
Relatively little testimony Monday was related to the robbery charge, but Dedet testified that to his knowledge, Canul-Arguello's messenger bag, boots, wallet, and phone haven't been recovered. Judge Bruce Chan told Trevisan he'd be interested in further evidence to support the count.
The hearing, after which Chan is expected to determine whether there's sufficient evidence to proceed to trial on the charges, is set to continue November 19.