A former rookie Los Angeles police officer who gunned down a man while off-duty outside a Pomona bar and then fled to Mexico was convicted Wednesday of second-degree murder.
Jurors deliberated for about 2 1/2 days before convicting Henry Solis of the March 13, 2015, killing of 23-year-old Salome Rodriguez Jr. The seven-man, five-woman panel also found that Solis had personally discharged a handgun during the commission of the crime.
Solis, now 32, was arrested by Mexican authorities in the border city of Juarez and deported to the United States about 2 1/2 months after Rodriguez’s killing.
Solis — who was a probationary officer at the time of the shooting — is facing a potential 40-year-to-life term, with sentencing set for March 11.
The victim’s mother, Lidia Rodriguez, told reporters outside court that the verdict “should have been first-degree (murder), but I’m good with second-degree.”
Solis’ attorney, Bradley Brunon, said he was “disappointed” by the outcome. He had asked jurors to acquit his client — a former Marine whom he said had “never been in trouble a day in his life.”
“Henry Solis is a good person. He spent years serving the country honorably (and) would have made a terrific peace officer,” Brunon said. “Unfortunately, this event occurred and derailed his plans … We felt that the evidence didn’t warrant a murder conviction — perhaps manslaughter on a theory of provocation or imperfect self-defense. (The) jury didn’t agree.
“Forty to life is a big jolt for anybody, particularly somebody who’s never had a misdeed in his life,” the defense attorney told reporters, noting that he would try to find some justification for the judge to impose something less than the maximum sentence.
In her closing argument, Deputy District Attorney Deann Rivard told the jury that Solis “wasn’t acting like a cop” at the time of the shooting and called into question Solis’ claim that he was trying to arrest Rodriguez after being robbed and sexually assaulted by two men inside the restroom of a Pomona bar.
The prosecutor noted that video surveillance cameras along the street captured much of the interaction between Solis and Rodriguez, but not the shooting itself, and urged jurors to ask themselves if Solis’ actions looked like what a police officer would do.
“Nobody in this courtroom … wants to believe that a police officer sworn to uphold the laws … would kill somebody for a stupid reason, for some reason, a slight, whatever it is,” Rivard told the panel, adding that it was the only reasonable conclusion about what had happened.
In urging jurors to convict Solis of first-degree murder, Rivard said Solis “tried to get away with it” and only returned to the United States in handcuffs.
Another prosecutor, Martha Carrillo, told the jury that she suspected “somebody disrespected” Solis and he “zeroed in on the wrong guy” while trying to exact revenge. She said he subsequently told a roommate — using an expletive — that he had messed up and “killed somebody,” and later conceded that it was him because “the evidence caught up to him.”
In his closing argument, Solis’ attorney said he was convinced that his client wouldn’t have been prosecuted if he had stayed at the scene of the shooting. Brunon said the rookie officer “panicked” and “ran away” in what was the “biggest mistake he’s ever made in his life,” but said it didn’t prove that he should be found guilty.
“It’s not easy to say that a person who kills someone is not guilty,” Brunon said. “But if it’s done in an effort to arrest … by a peace officer, if it’s done in self-defense, it’s not a crime. He is not guilty, and that’s your duty — to find him not guilty.”
The defense lawyer told jurors that his client had been the victim of a crime, and that Solis had “ample opportunity” to see Rodriguez during the alleged attack in the bar restroom.
Following the jury’s verdict, the victim’s mother said, “I almost thought about forgiving him, but he’s a psycho, he’s a psycho,” adding that her son was “not going to be killed for me twice with all those negative lies.”
Solis’ upcoming sentencing will give her an opportunity to let people know “who the real Junior was,” she said.
Solis, who worked at the LAPD’s Devonshire Division in the San Fernando Valley, was fired soon after becoming the subject of an extensive weeks-long manhunt that ended with his arrest in Mexico. The ex-Marine had been on the force for about four months at the time of the shooting.
His father drove him out of state after the shooting and later told federal authorities that he had dropped his son off at a Texas bus stop, but the pair were caught on surveillance video walking across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Solis had been staying with relatives in the Juarez area prior to his arrest, FBI officials said.
His father, Victor, was convicted by a federal jury in El Paso of lying to the FBI about helping his son’s escape. He was sentenced to three years probation and fined $1,000.
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