Verdict soon in park death trial
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Jurors were expected to announce their verdict this week in the trial of a man charged with intentionally choking to death another man during a sexual encounter in San Francisco's Buena Vista Park in 2011.
David Munoz Diaz, 25, is charged with murder, arson, mutilating human remains, and destroying evidence in the death of Freddy Canul-Arguello, 23, whose burned, mostly naked body was found in the park just before 5 a.m. June 10, 2011. The medical examiner's office listed the cause of death as asphyxia due to strangulation.
Jurors got the case Monday, August 18, three weeks after attorneys in the case made their opening statements. The jurors' options include convicting Diaz of involuntary manslaughter.
In her closing arguments Monday, Assistant District Attorney Danielle Douglas said that Canul-Arguello "did something that caused the defendant to go into a rage."
Douglas pointed to a 911 call Diaz had made just after he killed Canul-Arguello. In the call, which Douglas has suggested was an effort to throw off authorities, he'd used the phrase "fucking faggots."
"Something happened that night that made him feel like a fucking faggot, and that sent him into a rage," she said. Douglas said Diaz had "brutally" and "violently" strangled Canul-Arguello.
Deputy Public Defender Alex Lilien said the prosecution was "not required to prove the defendant had a motive," but he noted Douglas hadn't presented a clear one during the trial, and he said during her closing arguments she'd offered "speculation" that "in some fit of self-loathing rage, [Diaz] killed Freddy. There's nothing to support that."
Ever since shortly after Diaz's arrest in July 2011, Lilien has said Canul-Arguello's death was "a terrible accident," and Monday he said there's "no evidence David intended to kill Freddy. None."
Diaz, who's been in custody since his arrest, testified through a Spanish interpreter last week that he and Canul-Arguello had met up in the Castro just hours before the death, decided to have sex, and walked to the park.
They performed oral sex and other acts on each other, and Canul-Arguello asked to be choked, Diaz said. He said he eventually agreed, then noticed at some point that Canul-Arguello had stopped moving. He unsuccessfully tried to revive him, he said.
"I was frightened," Diaz testified. "... I didn't know what to do. I was really nervous."
He said he moved a recycling bin close to Canul-Arguello's body and lit a fire in it to signal for help.
During her questioning of Diaz, Douglas had repeatedly gotten him to acknowledge that he'd lied to police and others between the time of Canul-Arguello's death and his arrest six weeks later.
Lilien said Monday that Diaz was "not on trial for making misrepresentations, for lying to the police."
In her closing arguments, Douglas referred to Diaz's testimony that Canul-Arguello had had a dildo just before he died. She said the sex toy's never been found "because it doesn't exist."
Lilien showed a slide bearing a phallic-shaped figure dressed in red and white stripes and wearing glasses, akin to the character in "Where's Waldo?"
The slide said, "Where's Dildo?"
Douglas's references to the dildo were "a red herring," Lilien said.
Based on the testimony of witness Erika Stearns during the trial, he suggested another person may have taken items from the scene. Douglas indicated she didn't find Stearns credible.
Lilien has called Diaz "a sweet kid," and he said, "from what I can tell" Canul-Arguello was "a sweet guy." He said Sunday, August 17 would have been Canul-Arguello's 27th birthday.