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Suspect charged with killing ex-girlfriend's fiancé says he has undiagnosed autism

Jesse Alvarez is on trial for the 2021 shooting of Mario Fierro, a Cathedral Catholic High teacher
Posted at 7:21 PM, Mar 06, 2024

SAN DIEGO, Calif (KGTV) — Accused killer Jesse Alvarez took the stand in his murder trial Wednesday, testifying that he has long suffered from a form of undiagnosed mental disorder.

Alvarez is on trial for murdering Mario Fierro at his North Park home in 2021. Fierro was a Cathedral Catholic High School teacher recently engaged to fellow Cathedral teacher Amy Gembara, Alvarez's ex-girlfriend.

In his testimony, Alvarez said his undiagnosed autism contributed to his obsession with his ex-girlfriend and his inability to take a hint that his ex-girlfriend wanted him to go away.

"It was apparent from a young age, I have some kind of mental disability. I suffer from some sort of autism disorder," Alvarez told the jury in a bizarre and lengthy testimony.

His answers were sometimes so long that the judge and Alvarez's defense attorney both asked him to stop telling stories about his old relationship and ex-girlfriend and simply answer the question being asked.

Alvarez's answers factor into his defense's case, that he does not understand social situations. Alvarez's attorney says Alvarez was camped outside of the former teacher's home but wasn't planning to shoot him. Alvarez said he was there to meet the man, but argued Fierro started hitting him first, and the shooting was in self-defense.

"I'm just kind of in my own world," Alvarez told jurors.

Despite a protection order being issued against him, Alvarez says he continued to try to contact Gembara, including taking a job as a food service worker at the school.

"I couldn't shake out the desire I still had to be with her," he said. "To talk with her, to help her. I felt kind of betrayed." Alvarez continued, "I got kind of obsessed, kind of like an (obsessive compulsive disorder) or something."

Prosecutors allege the killing was premeditated after Alvarez learned in a Facebook post from the school that his ex-girlfriend was getting engaged.

"There was this post announcing their engagement, and yeah, I was super shocked," Alvarez said.

A crime analyst testified in court on Wednesday that before the shooting, Alvarez searched on Google "how to kill your ex's fiance" and "in California can you shoot someone trying to rob you?"

Still, Wednesday's testimony focused on proving that Alvarez is book-smart but struggles to understand social situations. His defense team hopes to show that's why he was there in the first place.

"I couldn't take the hint. It just went over my head," Alvarez said.

Alvarez is expected to continue testifying on Thursday.