PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The jury hearing the case against the man accused of beating to death a Glocester businessman outside a Federal Hill bar could get the case as early as Wednesday.
After Daniel Lastarza spent most of the day on the stand in his own defense Tuesday, the defense rested its case.
Lastarza’s hours of testimony centered around his argument that he dealt two blows to murder victim Jonathan Stack in July of 2014 not because he intended to kill him, but because he was trying to save the life of his friend, Christopher Tucker.
“It was to save Chris,” he testified of his intention in the beating.
Lastarza admitted on the stand that he tried to scam Stack’s company, “I Buy Junk Cars,” earlier in the day. He said he and Tucker had arranged to sell a junk car that they didn’t own. Lastarza claimed his name was “Peter” while calling the company for a tow truck.
“We were scamming them for the car,” he said. “We were just going to junk it with them and hopefully he would’ve just towed it out.”
Stack’s employee, Jerri Nassi, made the sale and gave Lastarza $400 cash. But he was still at the scene of the sale when the true owner returned home. A woman, who the prosecution said was Tucker’s common-law wife, had shown her ID for the sale and was subsequently arrested for obtaining money under false pretenses. Lastarza and Tucker had already both left the scene of the phony sale when police arrived.
Nassi, who Lastarza is also accused of assaulting in this case, testified earlier in the trial that he and Stack were driving down Atwells Avenue when they spotted Lastarza and Tucker outside the $3 Bar on Federal Hill. Lastarza took off, but Stack ended up in a verbal confrontation with Tucker inside the bar.
Surveillance footage played in court shows Stack and Tucker engage in a physical fight as the confrontation spilled out into back parking lot of the bar. Lastarza was watching from behind a fence, he testified.
“I could hear with each blow, the sound of a fist or something to a face,” he said, claiming he saw someone attack Tucker in what he described as a “flying tackle.” He said Stack was grabbing Tucker around the neck.
“I turned, frantically looking for anything I could use as a weapon to go and help Chris.”
Lastarza said he first tried to rip some wood off of a pallet nearby. His hand, which he said he had broken in a bicycle accident less than two weeks prior, reverberated with pain at the effort. Instead, he spotted a chimenea–a type of outdoor fireplace–and pulled a two-by-four board out of its hearth.
The video shows Lastarza run through the parking lot towards the fight. He strikes Nassi once, then Stack twice with the board.
“I didn’t think that I had struck him in a way that would kill him,” Lastarza testified. “And I was hoping that he wasn’t dead.”
The prosecution attempted to poke holes in his story, doubting that it was a coincidence that Lastarza ended up in a fight with Stack, pointing out that Lastarza’s son, also named Daniel Lastarza, had accused Stack of assault in 2012.
“Not only are you scamming a junk car, you’re scamming a junk car from the very person who assaulted your son,” said Assistant Attorney General Roger Demers.
“That’s how it turned out,” Lastarza said.
“It was just random?” Demers asked.
“It was random, yes it was,” Lastarza said.
Lastarza admitted that he frequently sold junk cars that didn’t belong to him, and confirmed he had been convicted of related charges on eight occasions.
Demers also questioned Lastarza’s claim that he saw that “flying tackle,” asking him to point out where it happened in the surveillance footage of the fight. Lastarza said it happened during a part of the fight that was obscured, because the building jutted out past the view of the surveillance camera.
Jerri Nassi had previously testified that Tucker was choking Stack, which is why Nassi is seen punching Tucker in the video.
After the jury was sent home Tuesday, one of Lastarza’s attorneys, Michelle Alves, asked Judge Kristin Rodgers for an acquittal, claiming her client was acting in self-defense. Judge Rodgers ruled the trial will proceed with closing arguments Wednesday.