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Closing arguments in murder trial for man accused of killing Navy sailor on San Diego freeway

Posted at 10:10 AM, Feb 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-13 15:45:12-05

SAN DIEGO (CNS) -- Closing arguments began Thursday in the murder trial of a man accused of gunning down a Navy sailor who stopped to assist a stranded motorist on a Logan Heights freeway ramp.

Edson Acuna, 26, is accused of murdering 21-year-old Curtis Adams on Oct. 27, 2018, when Adams stopped to assist the occupants of a seemingly disabled vehicle on the connector ramp between southbound state Route 15 and northbound Interstate 5 about 2 a.m.

Prosecutors say Acuna and three others had burglarized a Mt. Hope home earlier that night and got into a shootout with one of the home's residents, resulting in at least one of the tires on Acuna's car shot out.

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Forced to pull over due to the flat tire, Acuna and the others saw Adams pull over.

Believing he was the homeowner from the shootout, Acuna allegedly shot Adams as the Navy man stepped out of his vehicle, a killing Deputy District Attorney Melissa Vasel described as "nothing less than an execution."

Acuna faces life imprisonment without the possibility of parole if convicted of first-degree murder and jurors find true a special circumstance allegation of committing the killing in the commission of a burglary.

His 22-year-old brother Brandon and two other co-defendants, Harvey Liberato, 25, and Susana Galvan, 39, have pleaded guilty to charges ranging from voluntary manslaughter to being an accessory after the fact.

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Defense attorney Daniel Cohen denied the evidence supported a first-degree murder conviction, arguing that Acuna fired to defend himself due to his belief that Adams was the homeowner who had previously tried to kill him.

"This was not an execution. This was an accident," Cohen told the jury. "This was a mistake. A tragic mistake, but a mistake nonetheless."

Cohen said Acuna accompanied his brother to the Mt. Hope home, where the younger sibling began burglarizing the homeowner's SUV.

The defense attorney said the homeowner came out of the home, "guns a-blazing," with the intent of killing Acuna and his companions, and that Edson sped away from the home because he believed his brother may have been shot.

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Then on the freeway, Acuna shot Adams in "perceived self-defense," Cohen said.

Acuna's vehicle was found on the freeway about a half-mile from the shooting scene, with Brandon Acuna and Galvan arrested nearby.

Liberato was arrested about a week later, while Edson Acuna was arrested that December in Mexico.

Adams, a Brooklyn native, enlisted in the Navy in 2016. At the time of his death, he was a steelworker with Amphibious Construction Battalion 1 at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado.