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Yuma man found guilty in baseball bat death
A Yuma County jury found Manuel Bustamante guilty of two counts of first-degree murder Tuesday afternoon in the April 18, 2012, killing of 33-year-old Kendal Smith, who was bludgeoned to death.
The jury also convicted Bustamante on charges of conspiracy to commit possession of narcotic drugs for sale, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, transfer of narcotic drugs, misconduct involving weapons, and possession of dangerous drugs.
Immediately following the verdicts, defense attorney John W. Erickson asked to have the jury polled to ensure it was their true findings, with each of them answering individually that it was. Several family members who had been attending the trial were visibly upset and were crying outside the courthouse afterward.
Since the case is not a capital murder trial, Bustamante faces life in prison instead of the death penalty. Sentencing will be next month.
On the night of the murder deputies from the Yuma County Sheriff's Office were dispatched to the 2500 block of 15th Place in reference to a disturbance involving six subjects armed with baseball bats.
Deputies were on scene in less than nine minutes, only to find Smith with blunt force trauma to the head.
He was taken unconscious to Yuma Regional Medical Center and later transferred to St. Joseph's Medical Center in Phoenix, where he died.
All of the suspects had fled the scene before deputies arrived.
According to testimony in the trial, Bustamante's girlfriend, had stolen 40 pounds of methamphetamine and a kilogram of heroin from a drug dealer a few months earlier and later approached him to help her sell it, eventually forming a partnership with him.
Bustamante and several members of his crew, who were armed with baseball bats, went to an apartment in the 2500 block of 15th Place that night, because that is where he thought heroin his girlfriend had given someone was being kept. Once there, they were confronted by Smith.
The case went to the jury at around noon on Friday, but jurors were not able to produce a verdict so they returned on Tuesday to resume their deliberations. They returned their verdicts about 2:45 p.m.
On at least two occasions during deliberations on Tuesday, the parties were called back to the courtroom to answer questions from the jury.
One of those times the jury asked the court if they couldn't come to an agreement on one of the charges, would it result in a hung jury for the other charges? After discussing the counsel how they wanted to reply to the jury question, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Scott McCoy, who is presiding over the case informed jurors that not coming to a conclusion on one count that it wouldn't result in a hung jury on all the charges. He explained to them that they were to consider each count individually and arrive at a conclusion on each count based on the evidence presented, the law and the jury instructions.
Another time the jury came back asking if intent and premeditation could happen at the same time, and if the court could provide legal definitions for sudden quarter and heat of the moment? Jurors were referred to their jury instructions.
James Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.