BELTON – The two elderly men had much in common: close, protective families; long, happy marriages; U.S. Army combat tours in Vietnam, where each was injured; and 17 now-grown children between them.
But one of the men will never see his 10 children again, and the other man is on trial for his murder.
A jury on Friday will hear closing arguments, and start deciding the fate of 86-year-old Santiago Vasquez, said Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza, on Thursday afternoon.
During the third and final day of testimony Thursday in the 264th Judicial District Court, defense attorneys argued there were reasons Vasquez shot his next-door neighbor, John Seth, Jr., 80, on May 30, 2017, in the 2800 block of Fishpond Lane.
Vasquez, cane in hand, testified Wednesday, telling the jury that he shot Seth in self-defense when Seth, a larger man, attacked him with his own cane.
A state’s witness on Tuesday and Thursday told the jury a different story: She said she saw Vasquez strike Seth twice with Vasquez’s cane, knocking him down after the second hit, followed by shooting him three times.
Seth died from two bullet wounds fired from Vasquez’s .38 Special revolver, one of two firearms police found on the defendant that day, in addition to a large knife.
The defense and prosecution rested their cases Thursday around noon, concluding the evidence portion of the trial. The attorneys will have one more chance to persuade the jury of five women and seven men with closing arguments on Friday morning.
The defense team called a handful of witnesses to prove that Vasquez had reason to fear Seth, and that Vasquez suffers from PTSD.
Attorney James Berry “J” Stapler has known Vasquez since 2010, when Vasquez hired the firm to file a lawsuit against Seth for harassment.
“He came in with an extensive list of complaints (against Seth) dating back to 2007,” Stapler said. “It was around 27 pages of handwritten notes.”
The lawsuit went nowhere, with no hearings or testimony heard by the civil court.
“Both parties were seeking injunctions against each other,” Stapler said.
In her cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Erica Morgan reminded the jury that a petition is only an allegation.
Stapler was Vasquez’s attorney after the latter was arrested.
“It’s extremely rare for me to tell a client to talk to the police,” Stapler said, adding it has happened around five times while carrying a caseload of a couple of hundred cases a month. “But in self-defense situations a person needs to tell their side as quickly as they can.”
On Wednesday, the jury heard testimony by Killeen Police Department Detective Albert Haas, who responded to several calls related to the neighbors in 2016. He issued a citation to Vasquez for loud music and naming him as suspect number one when someone threw rocks through one of Seth’s windows.
A son remembers
On the projector was a photo of Seth, a dignified man in a suit and tie, smiling brightly with his wife right before church.
Michael Coleman talked on the stand Wednesday about his father, whose health was improving after heart surgery. One of the bullets pierced the surgery scar.
“I went to visit every Saturday, and we talked almost every day,” Coleman said.
Seth already had been shot once, in the eye, by an enemy soldier in Vietnam. After retiring from the U.S. Army, Seth worked as a truck driver for more than 20 years.
Coleman recalled what he did after he heard the news that his father had been shot: he drove straight to the house, now surrounded by yellow police tape, where under a white sheet his father’s body lay in the street.
“I saw that yellow tape ... I wanted to run to him. I tried to run to him “ he said.