BELTON — After a day and a half of testimony, the prosecution rested its case in a Killeen murder trial on Wednesday afternoon in the 264th Judicial District Court.
The two attorneys defending Santiago Vasquez, 86, then took their turn, trying to make their case for self-defense using the words of the defendant on the stand.
Vasquez is accused of shooting and killing his next-door neighbor, 80-year-old John Seth Jr., after an argument in the 2800 block of Fishpond Lane in Killeen on May 30, 2017. A witness on Tuesday told the jury of five men and seven women that she saw Vasquez strike Seth twice with Vasquez’s cane, knocking him down after the second hit, followed by shooting him three times.
The medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Seth, Dr. Jill Urban, said on Wednesday that he died from two gunshot wounds, one of which went through his heart and the other through his abdomen. Both bullets were found lodged inside Seth’s body, she said.
Urban also noted signs of blunt-force trauma, or bruises, on Seth’s arm and hands. “The age of bruises can’t be pinpointed but the pink-purple color suggested they were relatively recent and had not had time to heal,” she said.
A defendant speaks
The first witness called for the defense was Vasquez, who testified for an hour, contradicting the testimony on Tuesday of the one witness. The Army veteran said that he had been outside for most of the day on May 30, tending to the sprinkler and sharpening a knife to prepare for an upcoming family barbecue.
Vasquez said that Seth started arguing with him and moved toward him.
“After he called me some names, I just stood there at the corner of the yard and he comes toward me,” Vasquez told the jury. “I brought up the cane to stop him — ’Get back, get back’ — but he grabbed the cane and took it away from me.”
He said Seth started beating him with the cane, knocking him down, at which point he said he did “something bad.”
One of the two handguns that he had on his person fell out of his waistband, hitting the ground. He said the two men struggled and “I picked it up, I brought it up and I used it.”
When his defense attorney, Paul Harrell, asked how he felt at that moment, Vasquez answered, “fear and hurt. I was in fear for my life.”
After the shooting, Vasquez said he tried to call 911 and was unable to complete the call, but he was able to reach his civil attorney.
Assistant District Attorney Anne Jackson honed in on the weaponry in Vasquez’s possession when he was taken into custody.
“You had three deadly weapons, two handguns and a knife with a 6-inch blade, while you were out watering the grass,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered. Vasquez said he had a concealed carry permit and was trained in the Army to have a backup weapon.
He said he shot Seth with a .38 Special revolver.
Witnesses on Wednesday testified for the state about the negative relationship between Vasquez and Seth.
“I wouldn’t call it a feud because a feud usually means two parties are going against each other and this seemed one-sided,” said Killeen Police Department Detective Albert Haas. “Mr. Vasquez never said he was being antagonized by Mr. Seth.”
Haas, then a patrol officer, responded to two calls in 2016 regarding the neighbors.
“Mr. Vasquez was doing things to antagonize, irritate and annoy Mr. Seth,” Haas said. The first call was for loud music, for which Vasquez was issued a citation.
Haas said Vasquez had his window open with a radio blasting loud music toward the Seth home. “It was loud enough to be annoying to a reasonable person,” he said.
Vasquez was “cooperative and cordial” to Haas when approached about the music.
Months later, Haas again found himself on Fishpond Lane, this time for criminal mischief.
“Mr. Seth called about damage to his house,” Haas said. The officer found a window that had been broken in two places, with one of the rocks still at the scene.
“I thought it could have been a slingshot by the way it punctured the screen,” Haas said. He wrote in his report that Vasquez, who was not home, was the number-one suspect but the case was never assigned to a detective for follow-up.
Defense attorney Zachary Morris, in his cross-examination, emphasized that no charges resulted and there were no witnesses.
“There had been six or seven calls to those addresses already,” Morris said.
“I knew it was an ongoing situation,” Haas answered.
Seth’s son, Michael Coleman, told the jury that at first Vasquez “seemed like a nice person,” but that changed. He said he saw Vasquez “with his cane pointed at Dad across the fence.” Coleman said he witnessed more words between the two men on another occasion.
Testimony for the defense will continue on Thursday, followed by closing arguments.