A 23-year-old man was convicted today of voluntary manslaughter for a fatal stabbing at a Santa Ana nightclub that was sparked by aggressive slam dancing.
Juan Angel Rivera of Santa Ana was charged with murder, but jurors, who began deliberating last week, rejected that charge.
Rivera is scheduled to be sentenced July 14 for the March 3, 2016, killing of 23-year-old Nathan Alfaro at Underground DTSA at 220 Third St.
According to Senior Deputy District Attorney Keith Burke, Rivera was "moshing," a form of dancing to punk music that involves jostling other concert-goers, in a way that upset Alfaro. They got into two fights, and in both cases, other patrons at the club pulled them apart, according to the prosecutor, who said both men had been drinking and the Alfaro had also used marijuana that night.
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One witness told authorities she saw Rivera "sheath" a knife after the second scuffle, Burke said.
No one realized immediately what had happened, and the band on stage at the time kept playing, the prosecutor said. Alfaro got up and stumbled out to the front of the club. He collapsed on the sidewalk, bleeding, and was pronounced dead soon after being taken to a hospital.
He had been stabbed five times -- in the chest, the backside of his left arm, twice in his left armpit and once in the left side, which "got his lung and that was the one that killed him," Burke said.
The defendant, meanwhile, exited via a side door mainly used by the bands to truck in their instruments and walked a half-mile to his home, the prosecutor said.
Police quickly sized up Rivera as the prime suspect and put him under surveillance. They arrested him the following morning and found the defendant's bloody clothes in the car he was riding in, Burke said.
He told the jury that Rivera sustained a "significant'' wound to his left small finger as "he was killing Nathan Alfaro."
Burke told jurors that the defendant was involved in another incident with a knife the Christmas before the killing. In that case, Rivera was kicking someone's car when he was confronted by the owner. He pulled a knife and chased the victim when the man tried to knock the weapon out of his hand with a stick, Burke said.
Rivera's attorney, Alison Worthington, told jurors that her client was engaged in "pretty normal behavior" for a punk rock concert and was merely "clearly exuberant and really feeling it" when he tried to start a "mosh pit" of dancers.
Alfaro, however, was "annoyed" and "shoved (Rivera) so hard, (and) that's when the fight started," Worthington said.
Alfaro was 6 feet tall and weighed about 300 pounds, so he had a physical advantage over her 5-foo-4, 135-pound client, Worthington said.
In the first squabble, Alfaro was "getting the better of Mr. Rivera," but the other concert-goers broke it up, Worthington said. But the next song was more "up-tempo," and when Rivera started "bouncing around like a pinball," the two got into another scrum, she said.
Alfaro pushed Rivera up on the stage and "started punching Mr. Rivera in the head," Worthington said.
"It took four or five guys to pull Mr. Alfaro off of Mr. Rivera," who felt he was "suffocating and thought he was going to die," she said. "He can't breathe, he's losing consciousness, he can't stop the blows from coming and that's when he grabs his knife."
Rivera left the club because he was unaware of the seriousness of Alfaro's wounds, Worthington said.