A state appeals court has overturned the conviction of Juan Angel Rivera, who stabbed a fellow concertgoer, 23-year-old Nathan Alfaro, to death during a punk show at a now defunct Santa Ana club, Underground DTSA, according to the O.C. Register.
Rivera was sentenced to 11 years in prison, in 2017, after he was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter for killing Alfaro.
Rivera is a free man now however as a panel of California appeals court judges reversed his conviction citing an error in jury instructions.
The appellate judges decided that Orange County Superior Court Judge Patrick H. Donahue screwed up not instructing the jurors about a lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter.
Had the jurors been properly instructed it is possible that they might have concluded that Rivera acted with gross negligence rather than implied or express malice.
The jury did not have the full range of verdict options borne out by the evidence because of the failure to instruct on involuntary manslaughter.
During Rivera’s trial, an OCDA prosecutor, Keith Burke, failed to convince the jurors to find Rivera guilty of murder.
The first fight between Rivera and Alfaro broke out when Alfaro was apparently angered by Rivera’s attempts to start a mosh pit. Other audience members broke the fight up, but a second fight quickly started, ending with Rivera pulling out a hidden knife and fatally stabbing Alfaro.
During Rivera’s trial, Burke argued that Rivera started the second fight with Alfaro on purpose so he could stab him. But Rivera told the jury that Alfaro, who was larger than him, was pummeling him and he could not breathe. He claimed he stabbed Alfaro because he was afraid he was going to die.
The Judge, Donahue, blamed Rivera’s “abnormal fascination with knives” for turning what should have been a quick fight into a tragic death.
Rivera apologized to Alfaro’s family and friends during his sentencing hearing noting that the two of them both loved music and attended numerous local shows/ They might have gotten along well had they met under other circumstances.