By David M. Greenwald
San Francisco, CA – Arguments began in the trial of Nelson Hernandez-DeLeon, who is accused of stabbing two men outside of the Cava 22 bar in San Francisco last September.
During the arguments two different stories emerged – from the prosecutor’s perspective, the defendant got involved in a domestic dispute to which he had business inserting himself. From the defense perspective, the victim and his girlfriend got so drunk and belligerent, that they put the defendant’s friend in mortal danger and he had no choice but to intervene.
“90 second. Less than a minute and a half. Maybe half a song,” Assistant District Attorney Justine Cephus began. “That’s how long it took to take Omar Cureno Rayon’s life.”
She argued this wasn’t “a who dunnit.” She said, “This is not even really about what happened. That’s not in dispute. The only question will be why?”
She said, “The only question will be why – why that 90 seconds between the first physical contact to the fatal stabbing.”
She acknowledged, “Unfortunately you’re meeting Mr. Rayon not the way he would introduce himself, not with his best foot forward.”
She acknowledged, he was “having a bad night with his girlfriend.” He had brass knuckles. He was drinking. He was at Cava 20 for hours. She acknowledged, “Frankly, he got quite a beating from his girlfriend. There’s quite some physical contact between the two, but they’re eventually able able to separate.”
She argues, “This was a lover’s quarrel between the victim and his girlfriend and the defendant and his group of friends for whatever reason had something to say about it.”
Hernandez-Deleon first approached the victim and stabbed him in the back with what apparently was a pocket knife.
After running off momentarily, he comes back.
“You’ll see, before stabbing the second time,” Cephus describes, “he pulls his shirt up over his head.” At this point he stabs the victim in the chest.
A second victim survived the assault.
Cephus said, “The question as to why… You’ll see from the evidence this was not a man defending himself. This was not a man that had to use deadly force against two people to protect himself. This is someone who inserted himself in a lover’s quarrel, got involved in something that had nothing to do with him, and when it got out of hand, he ended it.”
But the defense attorney, Public Defender Ilona Solomon painted a very different picture in her opening remarks, as she went to great lengths to that his involvement was in her view an effort to come to aid of his friend Carlos, who was himself severely assaulted by the victim and his girlfriend.
“Nelson Hernandez Deleon wasn’t looking for a fight when he left his house on September 17, 2021,” Solomon. “Nelson was minding his own business when he got dragged into a mele by a group of drunk, violent people.”
She said, “Nelson defended himself and he defended his friend Carlos.”
She argued, “Nelson did what he had to do, he had no choice.” She argued that the victim who she described as “a drunk, angry man with a weapon whose ego was bruised, when he mistakenly assumed that someone was making fun of him.”
Solomon pointed out that Rayon and his girlfriend had drunk 13 drinks – she watched the video and counted them she explained at one point – of the Mexican drink Michelada.
She said, “But for (the girlfriend’s) outrageous behavior, her boyfriend would still be alive today.”
There were two separate groups of people at Cava 22 that night, and they did not know each or interact each other until the fatal string of events.
The girlfriend as the night went on “was getting increasingly intoxicated and belligerent” and the security at the bar goes over to “talk to her because she’s drunk and she’s harassing the bar.” At one point, Solomon shows he walks over to her, “He tells her to knock it off, to calm down or he is going to kick her out.”
Eventually she throws her drink, throws her flowers, breaks the glass, and the security “has had enough and he kicks her out.”
As Solomon describes it, using video and stills from the evening, an argument erupts on the street between the girlfriend and the victim.
“They keep arguing a minute later, this argument erupts onto the street, and it gets really physical, really fast.”
Hernandez Deleon and his friends are out on the street corner, “and they’ve talking and they start laughing about something.” She said, “by all the accounts, nobody was making fun of Mr. Rayon.”
But because Rayon is “drunk and irrational, they assumed that the group was making fun of Mr. Rayon for getting his butt whipped by the girlfriend. Because that’s what drunk people do. They misinterpret and they overreact inappropriate ways.”
Solomon argued, “This is the moment that unleashed Mr. Rayon’s rage, the floodgates of his rage. He was attacked over and over again (by his girlfriend), but then to be mocked, that was a bridge too far.”
At this point he got angry, put on his brass knuckles.
“Let me reiterate that nobody was laughing at him, but even if they were, you don’t get to go pick a fight with a weapon,” she said.
Nelson, Carlos and company “never initiated an altercation with the group. They were on the corner. The person who initiated the contact between these two groups is actually (the second victim’s girlfriend). She knows that Mr. Rayon is angry, so she walks over and she threatened the group and tell them in no uncertain terms, stop laughing. This isn’t funny. This isn’t a circus.”
She described Hernandez-Deleon as being in his mid 30s with a dislocated shoulder and not wanting to fight. But because Rayon is attacking Carlos, pounding him in the head with brass knuckles, Hernandez-Deleon intervenes.
She shows photos of Carlos to show how badly he was assaulted.
She explained, “He was like a machine, kick, punch, punch beat. He was unstoppable.” She said that Hernandez-Deleon said, “All I really wanted to do was get out of there. I didn’t want to be there. So I ran towards my car to get out. I even unlocked the car to get in so I could leave. But then I hesitated because I couldn’t leave Carlos there. I couldn’t let them kill him. Because that would be wrong too. So, I did the only thing I could think to do, pull my shirt over my head. I ran towards them and I just poked at them to try to get them off of Carlos.”
Showing the jury the photos, she said, “It looks like Carlos could have died that night.”
Rayon died at 1:11 am, the blood alcohol of both victims were well above the legal limit. At the time of his autopsy Rayon’s was .17 and that was after he had a blood transfusion.
Solomon concluded: “After you’ve heard all the evidence in this case, you’ll be able to answer the following three questions. One who was the primary aggressor and who started the fight, Why he started the fight And who was actually defending who.”
She said she believes that Nelson Hernandez-Deleon acted in lawful self defense and self defense of another. The jury will now get to hear the evidence and eventually decide for themselves.