Man charged with murder takes stand in own defense

Becky Campbell • Mar 26, 2013 at 9:04 PM

Poncho Delgado took the witness stand Tuesday in his own defense at his first-degree murder and arson trial and denied killing Robert Curtis nearly seven years ago.

In fact, Delgado, 44, said he didn’t know Curtis and wasn’t even at the man’s East Fairview Avenue home May 25, 2006.

That’s when Curtis was stabbed more than 30 times in his torso and died in the floor at his front door. Curtis’ house was also set on fire, presumably in an attempt to cover up the murder.

Delgado, who is now in a wheelchair and suffers from cirrhosis, hepatitis and other maladies he said he can’t pronounce, said he spent most of his life using drugs and drinking. That’s what he was doing the night Curtis died.

He said he doesn’t know why anyone told police he admitted to killing Curtis because it never happened.

“I was drinking and getting high, smoking crack,” and walking down the railroad tracks toward Dalewood Drive. At one point some dogs got after him and he broke his flip flops running away.

From there, he went to his see his cousin, James Hale, to get a pair of shoes. Hale testified Monday that Delgado approached him at Tyler Apartments and said he’d killed a man and needed some shoes. Before that happened, Delgado allegedly got a change of clothes from Bonnie Peck’s brother.

She also testified that Delgado said he’d killed a man and “torched the place.”

Delgado testified about potential bad blood between him and both Peck and Hale.

He and Hale drank together at times, but they “got into it all the time because he had a racist mouth. They were the outcasts of my mother’s family,” Delgado said.

As for Peck, Delgado said he had conned her into a ride to Bristol about a month before Curtis’ death by promising her a $50 rock of crack cocaine. He’d told his nephew, Robert Racanelli, to offer Peck the deal for the ride, but “I lied. I didn’t have no more (crack).”

And Delgado’s baby sister, June Lopez Little, was also known to lie, he said. She testified Monday that her brother showed up at her house after Curtis’ death and told her he’d killed a man.

She said she and her husband, Darius Little, dressed Delgado up as a woman so he could walk down the street and not be detected by police. Delgado testified that never happened.

Little also testified that about two years ago, Racanelli told her he had been with Delgado when they both were involved in killing Curtis. No other evidence about Racanelli being involved came into the trial, but it could give jurors enough doubt to not convict Delgado.

When Delgado took the stand, he became emotional when his attorney, Jim Bowman, asked why he would tell Johnson City Police Investigator Jason Abernathy that he didn’t mean to kill Curtis.

“I don’t know. I can say words and I don’t know what they mean. I’m, uh, I (was) in special classes all my life. I’m a dummy,” he said.

Abernathy testified earlier in the day Tuesday that when Delgado turned himself in at the police station, he asked for an attorney so there was no interrogation.

But while the men sat in the interrogation room as Delgado ate a bologna sandwich, he said, “I didn’t intend to kill that guy.”

Delgado said on the stand that he often says things and uses words he doesn’t understand in order to “fit in” with the people around him.

A psychological examiner testified for the defense that Delgado scored in the midrange of borderline intellectual functioning on his verbal skills and at the low end of normal on the performance skills.

William Stanley, the examiner, said the scores indicate Delgado functions on a day to day basis and probably can work with his hands, but likely has trouble with “basic type of language skills processing.”

Even though police found no physical evidence to tie Delgado to Curtis’ death, he became the top suspect in the 2006 stabbing death. Abernathy said he saw the victim’s injuries were consistent with what Delgado allegedly told a witness he’d done.

Abernathy was at the crime scene at Curtis’ residence late when he learned Delgado had been at Tyler Apartments and told someone he’d killed a man and cut him from his neck to his scrotum.

Abernathy said when he was able to get to Curtis’ body after hearing that, and saw that Curtis’ had stab wounds all over his torso, including to both sides of his neck.

Delgado showed up at the police station two days after Curtis’ death, apparently because he knew investigators were looking for him.

Bowman asked Abernathy about what information was released about the homicide and how Delgado would have known he was a person of interest.

Abernathy said investigators limited what information was released to the media, but police had been asking around about Delgado’s whereabouts. When Delgado got to the police station, the video shows him telling Abernathy he wanted an attorney, but a few minutes later said, “I didn’t intend to kill that guy. I can tell you that.”

Abernathy’s supervisor, Lt. Brian Rice, entered the room and reminded Delgado he had asked for an attorney, but if he wanted to tell them what happened that was OK. Delgado again said he didn’t intend to kill “that guy.”

Bowman also asked Abernathy about what physical evidence investigators found at the scene to tie Delgado to the killing.

There was “no evidence at scene to link Mr. Delgado to the scene,” Bowman said. “No sir,” Abernathy responded.

Prior to Abernathy’s testimony, the jury heard from former JCPD investigator John Sipos, now a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent. He testified about processing the scene for evidence, including collecting blood samples and taking photos.

Jurors saw photos from the crime scene that showed blood spatter in numerous areas around the couch and a large blood stain on the carpet in front of the door.

Judge Robert Cupp recessed court around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. The case will resume today at 9 a.m. with closing arguments, jury instructions and deliberations.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Delgado faces life in prison.

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