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A priest testified Monday that the 26-year-old man convicted of murdering former Lompoc police Officer Richard May appeared “truly remorseful” during a number of visits at the San Mateo County Jail.

The Rev. Lawrence Goode of St. Francis of Assisi church in East Palo Alto said he had spoken with defendant Alberto Alvarez about 10 times at the Maguire Correctional Facility since his arrest in January 2006 on suspicion of killing May.

“I felt that there was remorse,” Goode said, while testifying as a defense witness. “I left seeing him after the first time ... thinking that he was truly remorseful.”

After just six hours of deliberation, a jury convicted Alvarez last month of first-degree murder with the special circumstance that May was performing his police duties as an East Palo Alto police officer when shot to death.

The same six men and six women must now decide whether Alvarez should spend his life in prison without the possibility of parole or receive the death penalty.

Per state law, jurors must make that decision based on a number of aggravating and mitigating factors including the defendant’s past criminal activity, prior felony convictions, mental disorders and his age at the time of the crime.

“The jury has to weigh those, and they can only return a death verdict if they find that the aggravating factors substantially outweigh the mitigating,” San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said after court adjourned Monday.

Superior Court Judge Craig Parsons has the power to reduce a death sentence to life in prison without parole but cannot elevate the sentence.

Goode’s testimony came on the second day of defense evidence in the trial’s penalty phase. Alvarez’s aunt, cousin and a woman who counseled him in high school as part of a program for Latino youths also took the stand Monday morning.

All said they were surprised when news broke of Alvarez’s arrest and described him as a quiet, calm person.

“He would never even want to push me back if I would push him,” the defendant’s 26-year-old cousin, Everardo Valencia, testified.

May, a 38-year-old father of three, chased Alvarez on Jan. 7, 2006, near the scene of a fight at a taqueria in East Palo Alto. The two ended up in a driveway on a nearby street, where a scuffle and an exchange of gunfire ensued.

Alvarez suffered a gunshot wound to his right thigh, and May died at the scene.

During the guilt phase of the trial, Alvarez testified that May struck him with his police baton and fired first.

Prosecutor Wagstaffe called the killing an execution, and said Alvarez opened fire on May to avoid going back to prison on a parole violation, briefly ran away and then returned to shoot the officer in the face as he lay on the ground.

The defense is scheduled to finish presenting its case today with testimony from two doctors who examined Alvarez, as well as the defendant’s father.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday morning.

E-mail Jessica Bernstein-Wax at jbernstein@dailynewsgroup.com.

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