A 21-year-old Navy man was executed on a Logan Heights freeway ramp when he stopped to assist what he thought was a stranded motorist, a prosecutor said Tuesday, while a defense attorney told jurors that his client shot the sailor in “perceived self-defense” because he mistook the victim for another person who had tried to kill him earlier that night.
Edson Acuna, 25, is accused of murdering 21-year-old Curtis Adams on Oct. 27, 2018, who stopped to assist the occupants of a seemingly disabled vehicle on the connector ramp between southbound state Route 15 and northbound Interstate 5 about 2:30 a.m.. He was allegedly shot by Acuna when he stepped out of his vehicle.
Deputy District Attorney Melissa Vasel said Adams pulled over and told his girlfriend seconds before being killed, “I’m going to be a good Samaritan today.”
“The moment he steps out of that car and turns to face what he thinks is a disabled motorist, he is executed, shot through the chest with an illegal assault weapon,” the prosecutor said in her opening statement.
Acuna faces life imprisonment without the possibility of parole if convicted of first-degree murder and jurors find true a special circumstance allegation of committing the killing in the commission of a burglary.
His 22-year-old brother Brandon and two other co-defendants, Harvey Liberato, 25, Susana Galvan, 39, pleaded guilty to charges that include voluntary manslaughter and being an accessory after the fact.
Prosecutors allege that prior to the shooting, the group took part in a vehicle burglary outside a Mt. Hope home, which resulted in the elder Acuna engaging in a shootout with the homeowner. No one was struck by the gunfire, though at least one of the tires on the defendant’s Toyota Camry was shot out, according to Vasel.
The group sped away from the scene in the Camry, but eventually pulled over on the freeway due to the flat tire, prosecutors said.
Thinking Adams was the homeowner from the shootout, Acuna shot Adams once in the chest, with the bullet lodging in the sailor’s spine, Vasel alleged.
Defense attorney Daniel Cohen denied the evidence supported a first-degree murder conviction, arguing that Acuna believed Adams was the homeowner who had previously tried to kill him and fired to defend himself.
“This was not an execution. This was an accident,” Cohen told the jury. “This was a mistake. A tragic mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.”
Cohen said Acuna accompanied his brother to the Mt. Hope home, where the younger sibling began burglarizing the homeowner’s SUV.
The defense attorney said the homeowner came out of the home, “guns a-blazing,” with the intent of killing Acuna and his companions, and that Edson sped away from the home because he believed his brother may have been shot.
Brandon Acuna, Galvan and Liberato were arrested within days of the shooting, while Edson Acuna was arrested that December in Mexico.
Adams, a Brooklyn native, enlisted in the Navy in 2016. At the time of his death, he was a steelworker with Amphibious Construction Battalion 1 at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado.
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