A Corona man fatally stabbed another man with a bayonet in a premeditated attack meant to kill, a prosecutor said in her opening statement Wednesday, while a defense attorney said it was manslaughter, since his client reacted "rashly" to being punched.
George Michael Acuna faces a possible life sentence if convicted of the first-degree murder of Shane Elijah MacLachlan on June 15, 2007, in the parking lot of the Kentucky Fried Chicken at 31257 Riverside Drive in Lake Elsinore.
Deputies found the 35-year-old victim with a deep stab wound to his back about 9:30 p.m. that night and died shortly afterward at a hospital.
The bayonet was found nearby, along with visceral material belonging to MacLachlan.
Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Chirco told the five-woman, seven-man jury that MacLachlan got into a fight with Acuna and his friend, because the MacLachlan thought Acuna and the other man were hassling some homeless men.
"It looked like these men were yelling or having words with the homeless men," Chirco said.
The men argued, then "everyone hit everyone," she said. "It was a true fistfight between men."
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After a few minutes, Chirco said Acuna went to his truck, got the bayonet, then "he walked over to the victim and stabbed him in the back.
"He left his knife in the victim's back" and fled, she said.
Defense attorney Glenn Osajima acknowledged that his client stabbed MacLachlan in response to a punch.
Osajima said Acuna and his friend were joyful at the time, hugging the friend's father who was homeless.
He said that MacLachlan "basically cold-cocks (Acuna) in the eye. George gets hit ... without ever knowing what's going on."
Osajima said his client did get the bayonet, but he was "acting rashly. It was an impulse.
"The incident happened because of provocation," Osajima said.
"It's not murder," said Osajima. "George is guilty of manslaughter."
Sheriff's Deputy Robert Wilson testified that he was the first law officer on the scene that night, responding to an assault with a deadly weapon call.
"Basically, (MacLachlan) was still alive but he wasn't responding to anything," Wilson said, adding that MacLachlan was bleeding from his left kidney-area.
When MacLachlan's pulse stopped, Wilson and another deputy began CPR until paramedics arrived and took over, he testified.
The deputy said he was familiar with double-edged, serrated bayonets, having been in the military for 23 years.
"When it goes in, it pulls the internals out," said Wilson, who identified a photo of some gore that had come from MacLachlan.
Osajima asked the deputy if it was possible MacLachlan could have survived if the bayonet had not been pulled out, but Wilson said he could not answer that.
MacLachlan's girlfriend, Savannah Buchanan, testified that the victim had drunk one beer and taken a dose of ecstasy before they went to the KFC/Taco Bell restaurant. He was excited about the possibility that Buchanan was pregnant and was being "lovey, dovey," Buchanan testified.
When they walked out of the restaurant, she went to the car but then heard loud talking from where MacLachlan, his friend and the other men were standing.
When she looked out of the car window, she saw MacLachlan and his friend, Luis 'Mellow' Chavez, backing away from the defendant and his friends.
MacLachlan was not "pushing to fight. That's not how it was," Buchanan said.
She turned away when the fight started, because she did not want to see it, she said. But the other woman with her told her that it looked as if one of the other men had retrieved a knife from a truck, Buchanan said.
Under defense cross-examination, Buchanan said she was not surprised that MacLachlan got into trouble. He was released from prison about a month before he was killed, she said. According to court records, MacLachlan had been locked up for spousal abuse, unlawful intercourse with a minor and making, importing or selling an undetectable firearm.
Acuna was tracked down with the help of a witness, who provided investigators with most of the license plate for Acuna's truck.
One of Acuna's children identified the bayonet sheath and told authorities he or she had last seen it in Acuna's truck, Chirco said.
Acuna, who was arrested on Aug. 23, 2007, denied being at the KFC/Taco Bell the night of the murder. He later admitted to being in a fight, though he denied stabbing MacLachlan.