EVERETT — Alejandro Meza was riding a bus to his job as a metal press operator in Mukilteo for the overnight shift when he got into a fight with another passenger, his attorney said.
This week, Meza, 22, of Lake Stevens, went on trial for second-degree murder in the death of Gene Peterson, 33, of Everett, on a Community Transit bus in March. Defense attorneys argue Meza acted in self-defense.
According to the defendant’s report to police, the two men got into an argument because Peterson was trying to smoke drugs. Meza said Peterson punched him in the face. They fought in the aisle.
Meza reported he thought he saw Peterson reach for something.
An officer asked him what happened next.
“What do you mean?” Meza responded, according to the charges. “I (expletive) shot him.”
According to both prosecutors and defense attorneys, he also told police, “I was a (expletive) idiot, obviously.”
“You will decide whether or not that is, somehow, an admission of criminal conduct or that is simply evidence that my client is a human being who has empathy, who was not looking for a fight,” defense attorney Timothy Leary told jurors Wednesday during his opening statement in Snohomish County Superior Court.
Meza rode the bus on March 7 because he couldn’t drive: He had been diagnosed with epilepsy, Leary said. The defense claimed Meza had a seizure a week earlier. He was acutely aware drug use could trigger another episode. That’s what caused the confrontation, according to the defense.
Meza’s family organized an online fundraiser to pay for the Seattle attorney’s legal services, bringing in over $25,000.
The defendant sat between his lawyers in court Wednesday morning in a light blue button-up shirt, navy pants and a black mask.
After the first 9 mm bullet went through his stomach, Peterson reportedly fell to his knees. With Peterson’s back facing him, Meza fired another shot one second later, prosecutors alleged. The second bullet went downward into Peterson’s back and through his right lung and liver.
According to court papers, Meza said the first shot was accidental; the second was intentional.
Security footage from inside the bus showed Peterson’s hands in the moments before Meza brandished his gun, according to the charges. Peterson was reportedly grabbing the hood of Meza’s jacket with his right hand. His left hand was by his own head.
Meza told police he couldn’t say where the victim was reaching. He never saw a weapon and Peterson didn’t threaten to use one.
Security footage suggested Peterson did not reach for anything, prosecutors said. Meza watched as the bus video played for the jury on several large television screens Wednesday. When police body camera footage showed the efforts to save Peterson’s life, Meza looked into the distance.
“This case is not a whodunnit,” deputy prosecuting attorney Elisabeth Forsyth told the jury.
According to Forsyth, the defendant was winning the fight. He had a gun. Peterson did not.
Jurors will need to decide, she said, if someone “can shoot and kill that person and call it self-defense.”
The trial is expected to last about a week.
Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.