At first, Elpidio DeJesus Tellez told police he’d never even been to the Monte Carlo the night he now admits he shot and killed Jesse James Nunez in front of the now-shuttered bar at S and 15th streets.
The same day of his denial to detectives, transcripts showed that Tellez also was thinking about an alternative explanation. In another videotaped conversation, Tellez told his ex-wife, who was allowed to join him in a police interview room, “I need your help. I’m going to plead insanity.”
Tellez, 37, on Monday took the witness stand in his murder trial in Sacramento Superior Court and settled into his final story. He admitted to gunning down Nunez on a Wednesday night in midtown Sacramento but insisted it was a matter of self-defense.
Nunez, or so Tellez said he’d been told, was out to get him. Tellez testified that in response to this perceived threat, he bought a stolen .45-caliber handgun on the streets of south Sacramento. As he stood outside the Monte Carlo where a friend’s birthday party was underway around 8:40 p.m. Nov. 7, 2012, Tellez said, a gray Impala drove into the parking lot, and who should step out but Nunez? Saying he saw Nunez with a gun in his hand, Tellez testified that he fired first with the pistol he’d already pulled out of his own pocket.
“That’s what it is,” Tellez testified, when Deputy District Attorney Eric Kindall on cross-examination probed, with incredulity, the theory of self-defense. “That’s the truth.”
Tellez’s jury will ultimately decide on the veracity of his claim when it gets the case, probably later this week. To believe Tellez, jurors will have to pluck the self-defense claim out of a meadow of lies the defendant admitted having told police when they interviewed him in the hours after the killing. One was a false story about a friend taking him to the Monte Carlo when he drove somebody’s SUV, which he said he hadn’t driven in weeks. He denied he’d ever been to the Monte Carlo or that he left it in a hurry after the shooting. He said he’d never heard any gunshots. In his most emphatic denial, he told the detectives, “I did not kill that man.”
At the time of his death, Nunez, 36, worked two jobs, one on the graveyard shift in the West Sacramento rice mills and another behind the counter at a Florin Road AM/PM, according to his family. He is survived by four children, they said.
“He had a lot of friends, people who loved him,” said Celia Cisneros, Nunez’s aunt. “He would work so hard. All he cared about was his family.”
Under questioning first from defense attorney Jesse Ortiz and later from the deputy DA, Tellez blamed his initial untruthfulness on panic and fear, both of which he said also accounted for his fatal shooting of Nunez outside the Monte Carlo.
“I was just forced to do something I didn’t want to do,” Tellez testified. “I wanted it to be over.”
In his trial brief, Kindall wrote that the killing was the result of an old-fashioned love triangle. Nunez “had once dated the defendant’s wife; the defendant was still obsessed with her,” the prosecutor said in his court papers.
Tellez testified Monday that his relationship with his ex-wife, Raquel Archuleta, dates to their childhood. He said they began dating when he was 16, became more serious at 18 and that they got married when he was 22. They had two children together and she had one from a previous relationship, Tellez said.
He worked as a tile contractor, Tellez said. She sold real estate. They bought a house in Elk Grove.
“It was two kids falling in love,” Tellez testified. “It was wonderful.”
The joy of marriage did not last, he said.
“She just changed,” he testified. “No more communication. No more nothing.”
The divorce after 12 years of marriage pained him deeply, Tellez said.
“I mean it hurt,” he told the jury. “To me, she was still my wife.”
Archuleta, however, forged a new relationship “with this Jesse guy,” Tellez testified. The two of them lived together for three years, and Tellez said he met the new man in her life a few times, during kid exchanges and at youth football. Tellez said he did not care for Nunez and that he never lost the feeling he held for his ex-wife.
“She was the mother of my kids,” he said.
By 2012, the year of the killing, Tellez said his ex-wife and Nunez had terminated their relationship and that she had since taken up with another boyfriend. Tellez, however, said that Archuleta told him to “be careful when you take the kids and where you have the kids at,” that “Jesse’s talking ‘wet’ about you, and when he sees you, he’s going to smack you.”
Tellez translated the statement to mean that Nunez was “going to make my blood spill,” by shooting him.
“She said, ‘I want you to start holding something, to pack,’ ” as in a gun, he said.
The night at the Monte Carlo, Tellez said he was talking on his cellphone outside when he saw Nunez and two other men get out of a car. The three of them set up a “perimeter” around him, Tellez said, and when he saw Nunez pull a gun as he was walking into the bar, he fired first.
Nunez’s family insists he never carried a gun, and one of the two men who drove up to the bar with him told police the slain man definitely was not armed.
In his cross-examination, Kindall said in his questioning of Tellez that the autopsy showed Nunez had been shot once in the back and again to the side of his right upper chest. The prosecutor said the wounds suggest a first shot to the back and a second to and through Nunez’s chest when he turned to see what was happening. The second shot, Kindall said, knocked Nunez onto his back.
Tellez said he fired first into Nunez’s chest and the second shot hit him in the back when he turned away.