An execution or self-defense? Attorneys debate bus shooting

A public defender says Alejandro Meza was sucker-punched before he shot and killed his assailant.

EVERETT — A Snohomish County deputy prosecutor wrote that a Lake Stevens man “essentially executed a stranger” on a bus in Everett last month.

The gunman’s attorney says Alejandro Meza, 22, shot in self-defense, according to documents recently filed in Snohomish County Superior Court.

“The prosecution’s attempt to cast Mr. Meza as a cold-hearted killer is at best a selective presentation and representation of the evidence,” public defender John Chase wrote.

Meza was charged on March 26 with second-degree murder in the killing of 33-year-old Gene Peterson, of Everett.

According to court documents, Meza suffers from epilepsy and was riding the bus on March 7 to his night shift job. He was concerned for his own health when he asked a man — who would turn out to be Peterson — to stop using drugs on the bus, Chase wrote.

Chase describes Peterson as the aggressor who sucker-punched Meza from behind. Video taken from the bus’ security camera confirms that part of the story, according to Everett police.

A fight ensued. Chase writes that Peterson reached for Meza’s gun, which was openly displayed on his waist, and that’s when Meza shot Peterson.

According to charging papers, Meza was reportedly less specific about where Peterson was reaching. He only said that he saw Peterson reach for something, deputy prosecutor Adam Sturdivant wrote.

The officer reportedly asked Meza what he did next.

“What do you mean?” Meza said, according to charging papers. “I (expletive) shot him.”

In the bus security video, Peterson doesn’t appear to be reaching for anything, Sturdivant wrote. In the moment before Meza draws his pistol, Peterson reportedly has one hand up by his head, and the other is grabbing onto the hood of Meza’s jacket.

The video shows Meza allegedly draw his gun, rack the slide and fire. Peterson falls to his knees, turning his back to Meza, who reportedly fires his gun once more.

One bullet went through Peterson’s stomach, according to an autopsy. The second went downward into his back, and through his right lung and liver.

A friend of Peterson’s reported that about a second separated the gunshots, like ”bang, bang,” according to the documents submitted by Chase.

Police reported finding only one weapon at the scene, Meza’s 9 mm handgun, according to charging papers. No weapons were found on Peterson.

Meza initially claimed he was openly carrying his gun, as allowed by law, but later mentioned he pulled the gun out of his pocket, according to charging papers. In the documents submitted to court, Chase repeated the claim that Meza was open carrying. Meza doesn’t have a concealed pistol permit.

Chase pointed to other evidence that was reportedly collected from the scene: a small screwdriver, drug paraphernalia, a glass pipe, a torch lighter and what appears to be a bag from Dollar Tree full of nail polish remover.

Additionally, Peterson reportedly had a backpack that was later turned in to police by his friend, Chase wrote. Inside was a knife.

Chase wrote that, after the shooting, Meza unloaded his gun and asked someone to call 911. While riding in a patrol vehicle, Meza had a seizure, Chase wrote.

The public defender said Meza was cooperative with police throughout the investigation.

“I just wish this thing never happened,” Meza reportedly said at the police department, according to Chase.

An online fundraiser to pay for Seattle-based attorney Tim Leary to defend Meza has raised nearly $25,000.

In an explainer, Meza’s aunt describes Meza as the victim.

“For those of you who know Alex, you know he is one of the sweetest, brightest, and loving young men out there,” she wrote.

At Meza’s arraignment on April 12, Judge Jennifer Langbehn denied the prosecutor’s request to raise his bail to $500,000.

Meza pleaded not guilty. He remains out of custody after making bail of $75,000.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; Twitter: @zachariahtb.

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