A Carson City man charged with murder struck the victim twice, but only after the reputed gang leader threatened to shoot him, his attorney said as the trial opened Thursday.
Testimony is scheduled to start this morning in the case against Rocky Boice Jr., 23, one of 10 Native Americans accused of the beating death of Sammy Resendiz, purportedly a founding member of a Carson City gang called the Eastwood Tokers.
Defense attorney Lawrence Lichter claimed in his opening statement Thursday that Resendiz threatened to "shoot you all" and reached under a pillow as the motel-room confrontation began early on the morning of Aug. 23, 1998.
Boice struck Resendiz once with a broom handle, Lichter told the jury, and then a second time as Resendiz threw his arms in front of his face. It was at that point, the attorney said, Boice realized Resendiz didn't have a gun.
By then, however, several other people had rushed into the Roundhouse Motel room and a melee began.
"They didn't know what was going on. As far as they could tell this was mutual combat," Lichter said. "It was so chaotic. So short."
Boice and the others had gone to the motel to defend the honor of his cousin, Jessica Evans, who told them a gang member had beaten her earlier in the evening.
District Attorney Noel Waters claimed the group went there armed with clubs with the intention of harming someone in the room. But it was "a case of misplaced vengeance," he said, because Resendiz had not been involved in the earlier incident.
"They went over there to beat up whomever they found," Waters said. "Sammy suffered 18 to 22 separate blows on his body, torso, chest, back and skull."
Boice's attorney, however, said the group armed themselves with "defensive weapons" because they knew the Tokers to be a violent gang.
"When Sammy said he's (going to) shoot him, Rocky had no reason to not believe and lots of reason to believe he had to act," Lichter said, laying out an argument for self defense.
Lichter said Boice had no intention of hurting Resendiz when he went into the room. He wanted only to deal with Israel Ralla, a reputed gang member called "Muppet" whom Evans said had struck her.
"When Rocky found out Sammy wasn't the guy they were looking for, he tried to get everyone to leave," Lichter said. "Rocky didn't want anyone else in the room."
At that point it was too late, said Waters. The damage was done in 30 to 40 seconds.
Resendiz' pinky finger on his left hand was fractured, Waters said, and his right forearm was broken in two places. A bone in his throat was broken and he suffered numerous skull fractures.
"When the police officer arrived he will tell you he saw Sammy had skull fractures. He'll tell you he saw some (brain) matter on his head," he said. Resendiz died less than an hour later at Washoe Medical Center.
Waters said Boice's intention doesn't matter, but because a man died during the commission of a burglary Boice should be found guilty of first-degree murder under Nevada law.
"There may be one or two of them that you will think is more guilty than Mr. Boice, but when one goes to a fight, it's completely foreseeable that someone can die," he said. "This didn't have to happen. There were other alternatives."
Lichter argued Boice was doing what Carson City deputies failed to do -- protect his cousin, Evans, described as being like a sister to him.
The trial is expected to last at least two weeks. Today's first witnesses are expected to be police officers who arrived at the scene the night of the beating.
If convicted, Boice faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. The other nine defendants are scheduled for trials over the next seven months.