Two witnesses in a first-degree murder trial that stems back to 2006 testified Monday about information they apparently didn’t tell police during the investigation until recently.
The testimony came during the trial for Poncho Delgado, 44, charged with first-degree murder and arson in the May 25, 2006, stabbing death of Robert Curtis. Emergency personnel responded to Curtis’ East Fairview Avenue home that night on a fire call. Prosecutors and investigators said Delgado stabbed Curtis to death, then set his house on fire.
Bonnie Peck testified she was at her brother’s apartment at Tyler Apartments on that night when she saw Delgado approach her and ask for help. Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks asked if she noticed anything unusual about Delgado.
“Well, yeah. He was covered from neck to shoes, including his socks. He was covered in blood,” Peck testified. She said Delgado told her he’d just killed a man “for messing with his nephew. He said (the man) had molested his nephew and he took care of it. He said he cut him on both sides of his neck. ... He said he torched the place.”
Peck said her brother gave Delgado some clean clothes and let him clean up inside the apartment. On cross examination by attorney Donna Bolton, Peck said Delgado asked her to go to another apartment in the complex and tell the woman there he needed her help.
That was information Peck never told police because she said they never asked. The information could come into play later in the trial, but Bolton didn’t go further with it on cross examination. She did ask Peck about discrepancies in two statements she gave authorities that gave different information about the color T-shirt Delgado was wearing that night. In one statement, Peck said it was white and in another she said it was dark.
Peck said she didn’t even want to get involved in the investigation because she didn’t want to be labeled as a snitch, something she said could get a person hurt on the street.
Peck said her brother didn’t have shoes to fit Delgado, so he went to his cousin’s. That man, James Hale, testified he was drinking beer when his cousin showed up asking for shoes. He said Delgado was wearing a T-shirt and shorts, but no shoes, and that he told Hale he’d killed a man.
Hale testified he didn’t believe Delgado at the time, but later learned about Curtis’ death from local news reports.
One of Delgado’s sisters, June Lopez Little, testified later in the trial that her brother showed up at her house the day after Curtis’ death. She already knew police were looking for him through family members and he was suspected of killing a man.
“He said he needed my help, he said he killed a man. He said he gutted him,” she testified.
It took Little about two years before she gave police a statement about her brother showing up at her house and saying he’d killed Curtis, or that he’d spent two to three days there before she took him to the police station.
Little said she wanted Delgado to “sober up” before he turned himself in.
On cross examination, Little also testified about a second unofficial statement she gave investigators about a year ago. It involved her and Delgado’s nephew, Robert “Mookie” Racanelli, who she said he told her he was with Delgado on May 25, 2006, and they killed Curtis over a gun.
The trial began Monday with jury selection, which was completed by 10:20 a.m. Brooks is prosecuting the case while Jim Bowman and Bolton are defending Delgado.
During opening statements, Brooks asked the jury to remember a couple of numbers.
“Twenty-two. That’s the number of stab wounds that went to (Curtis’) lung. Twelve is the number of stab wounds that went to his heart,” Brooks said. “A death is a death, a murder is a murder. But in this case, the volume of injuries is going to be important.”
During Bolton’s opening remarks, she told the jury there was no doubt Curtis’ death was “a brutal, malicious death,” but that police based their investigation on “rumors.”
She said her client turned himself in to police after hearing they were looking for him.
“He walked into the police station, held his hands up in the air, said ‘My name is Poncho Delgado. I think you are looking for me.’ He didn’t go in there because he was guilty. He went in there because they were looking for him and he was not guilty,” Bolton said.
Before Monday’s lunch recess, jurors heard from two witnesses — Johnson City Firefighter Russell Sells, who found Curtis’ body, and Fire Marshal Lori Ratliff, who said there were actually two fires set inside Curtis’ home.
Sells said he entered the house through a front window and immediately found the victim when he dropped to the floor. Sells had to sit Curtis’ body up to get the front door open. When he did that, floodlights from the fire trucks fell on the body and Sells saw a lot of blood.
He said he realized it was a crime scene and took steps to preserve the evidence.
Ratliff testified she determined a fire was set in each of the bedrooms in the house, but that there was no evidence of accelerants.
“We had a slower-burning fire, which led me to believe we had normal combustibles,” and lab tests also did not detect any flammable liquid in evidence collected from the scene, she said.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Teresa Campbell testified at the end of the day Monday about the number of wounds Curtis suffered, including 22 stab wounds to his lungs and 12 stab wounds to his heart.
Any one of the stab wounds “would all be life-threatening,” she testified. Campbell also said Curtis did not have carbon monoxide in his system, indicating he was dead before the fire started.
“This man did not breathe a significant amount of smoke,” Campbell testified.