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The father of the 26-year-old man convicted of murdering former Lompoc police Officer Richard May testified Tuesday that he feels responsible for his son’s problems because he spent a decade away from his family in prison and on the streets battling drug and alcohol addictions.

Leopoldo Alvarez, 56, took the stand as the final defense witness in the penalty phase of Alberto Alvarez’s murder trial.

“I feel so bad ... because I feel it was my fault all the problems we have now,” Leopoldo Alvarez told the jurors, who last month convicted his son of first-degree murder with the special circumstance that May was performing his duties as an East Palo Alto officer when killed in 2006.

The same six men and six women must now decide whether to recommend Alvarez be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole or be sent to death row.

In sometimes tearful testimony, the defendant’s father described his own arrest and conviction for selling heroin in the early 1980s when his son was just

3 months old.

Leopoldo Alvarez also testified about the many times he left his family alone or scared them by kicking doors and breaking things while he abused drugs and alcohol between 1991 and 1998.

By the time he got clean, Leopoldo Alvarez said, it was too late to make a difference in his then-teenage son’s life — although he tried many times to get him out of trouble.

“I decided to change my life, but I think it was kind of late when I decided to help Alberto,” he said. “I feel disappointed, and I feel painful because my life is going to go with him, too.”

May chased Alvarez on Jan. 7, 2006, near the scene of a fight a taqueria in East Palo Alto. The two scuffled and exchanged gunfire in a driveway on a nearby street, leaving Alvarez with a gunshot wound to his right thigh and May dead.

During the guilt phase of the trial, San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said Alvarez opened fire on May to avoid going back to prison on a parole violation. His prior felony convictions were for possessing marijuana for sale and carrying a concealed weapon.

After the first round of shots, Alvarez briefly ran away and then returned to “execute” May as he lay on the ground, Wagstaffe said.

In November Alvarez took the stand in his own defense, and said May struck him with a police baton and fired the first shots. Attorneys from both sides have stipulated that May and Alvarez didn’t know each other, but a defense psychologist testified last week that the defendant told him there was “bad blood” between them.

Also Tuesday, educational consultant Dr. Nancy Cowardin testified that Alvarez has a low-normal IQ and learning disabilities in some areas.

She said she believes the defendant may have overcome an apparent childhood case of dyslexia, in part by reading in jail.

On cross-examination Wagstaffe seized on the fact that Alvarez reportedly told Cowardin he read a particular Stephen King novel but then couldn’t recount the plot to her. Wagstaffe has repeatedly called Alvarez’s honesty into question during both phases of the trial.

Dr. Rahn Minagawa, a San Diego-based clinical psychologist, also took the stand Tuesday, and testified that Alvarez had 23 of 28 risk factors that lead children astray, including limited parental involvement, exposure to violence and criminal behavior at an early age, drug and alcohol problems and gang affiliation.

The trial resumes Thursday morning with jury instructions followed by closing arguments.

E-mail Jessica Bernstein-Wax at

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