The 26-year-old man convicted of murdering former Lompoc police Officer Richard May sobbed openly in court Thursday as his mother testified about his troubled early childhood.
Speaking softly through a Spanish interpreter, Audelia Alvarez told jurors that her son, defendant Alberto Alvarez, had a difficult upbringing in East Palo Alto with his father spending three years in prison on drug charges from the time the boy was just an infant.
Last month a jury convicted Alvarez of first-degree murder with the special circumstance that May, an East Palo Alto officer, was performing his police duties when killed in 2006.
The same six men and six women are now hearing evidence in the penalty phase of the trial and will decide whether Alvarez gets life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.
Audelia Alvarez, a petite woman who cried repeatedly during her testimony, said her husband returned home when her son was a toddler but soon began to abuse drugs and alcohol. He neglected his family for about seven years before cleaning up in 1998, she said.
In those years the defendant often cared for his two younger sisters but eventually started having problems in school and dropped out for a life on the streets, Audelia Alvarez said. She added that she and her husband, Leopoldo, bought a house in Delhi, Calif., and tried to move their son there after he got out of prison on drug charges, but a parole officer wouldn’t let them move him.
“You know this jury has to decide what his fate will be?” defense attorney Eric Liberman asked.
“Yes,” the woman replied with her head down. She said Alvarez had been a good son and she would continue visiting him in jail and prison — if given the chance.
May’s widow, Diana, left the courtroom in apparent distress as the defense showed photographs of Alvarez as a young child.
On cross-examination San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe pointed out that other relatives helped Audelia Alvarez care for her son during her husband’s absence. He also said Leopoldo Alvarez had become a model father after he sobered up in 1998.
May chased Alvarez on Jan. 7, 2006, near the scene of a fight at the Villa Taqueria in East Palo Alto. The two men scuffled and exchanged gunfire in a driveway on nearby Weeks Street, leaving Alvarez with a bullet wound to his leg and May dead.
Also Thursday, Alvarez’s 22-year-old sister, Priscilla, and one of his cousins testified that they had a good relationship with him. Daniel Lopez, the 27-year-old son of Ravenswood City School District Board Member Marcelino Lopez, stated that he knew the defendant in his teenage years and remembered him as a “soft-spoken” and “mellow” person.
Dr. Mark Patterson, a psychologist who examined Alvarez, took the stand Thursday afternoon and testified that the defendant suffers from a moderate case of antisocial personality disorder.
Patterson said he made the diagnosis in part because of Alvarez’s impulsivity, trouble following the law and substance abuse.
However, 65 percent of North American inmates exhibited more serious cases of the disorder, potentially making them far more dangerous and cold-blooded, he noted.
“I found that he would not meet the criteria for being labeled a psychopath,” Patterson said of the defendant.
Prosecutor Wagstaffe pulled out some of Patterson’s reports during his cross-examination and began reading Alvarez’s answers. He questioned the psychologist about Alvarez’s use of drugs since age 13 and his more than 20 sexual partners.
In his report Patterson quoted Alvarez as describing the day of the shooting as “a normal day turned into a huge wreck.”
When Patterson asked what he would like to say to his victims, the defendant reportedly responded, “What do you mean? Everything I’ve done, it wasn’t in anger. It was in defense.”
“He didn’t say, ‘I’m sorry I committed a crime — I’m sorry I murdered Officer May?’” Wagstaffe asked.
Patterson said Alvarez didn’t make that statement but did exhibit remorse.
The trial is scheduled to resume Monday morning with additional defense witnesses.
E-mail Jessica Bernstein-Wax at firstname.lastname@example.org.