SALT LAKE CITY — A jury convicted a Kearns man of murder Thursday for the stabbing death of a man during a fight at a Kohl's store in West Valley City.
Following three days of testimony, an eight-person jury was asked to determined whether Jose Angel Gonzalez struck George Davila seven times with a knife in a vicious attack or as an act of self-defense.
After four hours of deliberation, the jury decided it was an attack and found Gonzalez, 22, guilty of murder, a first-degree felony; obstructing justice, a second-degree felony; and possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person, a third-degree felony.
Gonzalez admitted that he stabbed Davila after Davila made a derogatory comment about the gang Dog Town, charging documents state. Police say Davila was a member of a rival gang.
Gonzalez was the smaller of the two men and began stabbing at random to protect himself when Davila "came at him," said defense attorney Nisa Sisneros during closing arguments. The fatal wound was nothing more than a "lucky shot."
"There was nothing intentional about it," Sisneros told jurors. "(Gonzalez) is not aiming for anything. He's just trying to get out of there."
But prosecutor Sandi Johnson said Gonzalez was pursuing Davila through the Kohl's store and was the aggressor. She said Gonzalez can't justify the use of deadly force against an unarmed man as self-defense.
"You don't get to bring a knife to a fistfight," she said. "(Davila) didn't have brass knuckles, he didn't have a screwdriver, he didn't have a gun. The only thing George had was his bare hands."
Johnson said Davila had no visible gang affiliation when he encountered Gonzalez in the store's parking lot on Aug. 9, 2011, but Gonzalez was clearly tattooed on his forearm with the words "Dog Town." An exchange took place, although there was some debate about who spoke first.
The two men ended up in the bathroom of the store. Sisneros said her client, "a really, skinny guy," was stunned to see Davila and soon after was "overpowered" by the man, prompting Gonzalez to start stabbing.
"George is going to best him," she said of the altercation with her client. "(George) is bigger. … George starts this. He's the one who has an issue and he comes at Jose."
Johnson said the men were generally the same size and pointed to their images captured on surveillance video. She also said Gonzalez challenged Davila in the bathroom by saying: "What up, Ese?," a reference to a rival gang.
"Gonzalez threw down the challenge," Johnson said. "This wasn't self-defense, this was combat. … Jose is the aggressor. He's the one who starts this fight."
She said Gonzalez stabbed Davila seven times, three of those times in the face and another three times in the chest.
Sisneros said most of the stabbing happened outside the restroom as her client was trying to get away from Davila.
"He's trying to defend himself using any force necessary," she said of Gonzalez.
"The only reason George stops coming after him is because he's hurt. If that injury didn't happen, this may have gone all the way out of the store. (Davila) isn't going to let him go."
Johnson pointed out that Gonzalez's only significant injury came from his own knife, but Davila was already bloodied when he was leaving the restroom.
"George has been stabbed by Jose, so what does he do? He punches back," Johnson said. "He's already dying. … Gonzalez was defending Dog Town. George was defending himself."
Davila was transported to the hospital where he later died from a stab wound to the spleen. Police served a search warrant at Gonzalez's residence and located evidence of someone cleaning up blood and a hat that matched one worn in store's surveillance footage, according to prosecutors.
The obstruction of justice charge stemmed from the fact that Gonzalez allegedly threw the bloody T-shirt he was wearing down a storm drain.