EVERETT — A jury found a Lake Stevens man guilty of first-degree manslaughter, but not murder, for killing a stranger on a bus in Everett.
Meza got into a fight with fellow passenger Gene Peterson on a Community Transit bus. According to the defendant’s testimony during the trial, the fight started because Meza confronted Peterson about smoking on March 7.
Meza shot the 33-year-old Everett resident twice, killing him.
His defense attorney, Timothy Leary, argued Meza acted in self-defense. On the witness stand, Meza said, “I thought I was going to die.” He choked up while describing the shooting.
Prosecutors argued Meza didn’t have a reasonable fear of danger.
“Mr. Peterson didn’t have to die that night,” deputy prosecuting attorney Adam Sturdivant said in his closing statement to the jury.
Peterson’s mother was in the courtroom as the verdict was given Wednesday.
Peterson and a friend got on the bus that March night as Meza was on his way to work in Mukilteo. Meza couldn’t drive because he had seizures.
Peterson was trying to smoke drugs, according to trial testimony.
Meza told him to stop, thinking it could trigger a seizure. He testified this conversation went “not as planned.” He also claimed Peterson threatened to put him “to sleep.” Peterson did not threaten to use a weapon, Meza said in a police interview after the shooting.
Peterson punched him in the face, surveillance video showed. That footage was shown to jurors many times throughout the trial.
A fight ensued in the aisle.
Meza landed several blows. Peterson grabbed the other man’s hood. That blocked Meza’s vision.
The defendant felt a hand on his waist where he kept his gun. He thought it was Peterson’s hand. The security footage showed it was the hand of Peterson’s friend reaching in.
Within seconds, Meza racked the slide of his pistol and fired a shot into Peterson’s stomach. He told police the first shot was an accident.
The first 9 mm bullet sent Peterson to his knees, with his back to Meza. The defendant fired another shot down into Peterson’s back and through his right lung and liver. That bullet was intentional, Meza reportedly told police.
After the shooting, Meza could be seen on security video taking the magazine out of his gun and putting his hands in the air.
Meza said he was in fear for his life the whole time. Prosecutors argued Meza had no reason to be in fear after the first shot, but he fired a second one anyway.
Sturdivant called it a “senseless killing.”
“It’s as simple as this, ladies and gentlemen: Mr. Meza brought a gun to a fistfight,” he told the jury, adding later, “Nobody is saying Mr. Meza is a cold-blooded killer … What we’re saying is his decision to kill a man is unreasonable.”
The defense attorney, Leary, argued: “He doesn’t have to wait for Peterson to successfully further escalate the situation. He is entitled to act on appearances provided that he’s acting in good faith and on reasonable grounds.”
After a weeklong trial in front of Superior Court Judge Richard Okrent, eight men and four women convicted Meza of the lesser charge.
The jury made a special finding that Meza committed the crime while armed with a firearm. The sentence enhancement will tack on a mandatory five years to Meza’s prison time, Sturdivant said.
Meza had no prior criminal record.
Okrent ordered Meza held in jail with bail set at $100,000. Sentencing is set for Dec. 2.