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Serrato testifies fatal stabbing was self-defense

June 02, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

El Centro resident Salvador Serrato testified Friday that he fatally stabbed Edward De La Cruz in self-defense on July 1, 2001.

In a packed El Centro courtroom under tight security, Serrato gave his version of the events — portraying himself as the victim.

Serrato, charged with first- degree murder, told the jury De La Cruz was the aggressor who struck him in the face in an attack he said was unprovoked.

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Serrato said not only was he assaulted by De La Cruz, but a second person — one Serrato said he could not identify — grabbed him from behind and held him by the neck.

Under questioning from his attorney, Eduardo Rivera of Calexico, Serrato described how he was dazed by the attack and felt himself blacking out. It was only then, Serrato said, that he reached into his pocket, pulled out a hunting knife and swung it.

Managing to break away from the person who was holding him, Serrato said he then fled and wasn't even aware he had stabbed De La Cruz, much less fatally wounded him.

In nearly a full day of testimony, Serrato's version differed from earlier accounts from witnesses.

An 18-year-old woman, whose name investigators have asked to be withheld, testified that De La Cruz did strike Serrato first.

However, she testified that when De La Cruz fell, Serrato kicked him and, when De La Cruz was standing, stabbed him in the chest despite efforts from another man, Steven Vasquez, to hold back Serrato.

She further testified that Serrato was going to try to stab De La Cruz a second time but stopped when he saw De La Cruz fall to the ground from the first wound.

Serrato said such earlier testimony was wrong and that he didn't even see the woman in the area where the struggle occurred, on the side of a house in the 200 block of Olive Avenue.

Rivera asked Serrato to detail the events in the hours before the stabbing.

Serrato explained that for several hours he and friends, who he identified through street nicknames, had been "hanging" in the 300 block of Orange Avenue drinking beer. Serrato said he drank three beers.

Rivera asked Serrato if he "consumed any narcotics" in that time.

Serrato answered, "No."

Rivera then asked, "Did you have any weapon in your possession?"

"Yes," Serrato responded, "a hunting knife."

Rivera brought up that Serrato was both on parole and was a parolee at large at the time.

"You knew you could not carry that knife?" Rivera asked.

"Yes," Serrato said, but added he lived in a dangerous area and carried the knife for protection.

Serrato further explained how he left Orange Avenue at some point before daybreak July 1 and went to a friend's home to work out.

It was there, Serrato said, that De La Cruz rode up on a bike. Serrato said De La Cruz was talking to another person he identified as "Greaser" and after a while De La Cruz left without the bike.

A short time later, Serrato said, he took the bike with permission from "Greaser" to ride to his girlfriend's home. Along the way, while on Olive, he saw another friend, Vasquez in his yard.

Serrato said he was surprised to see Vasquez out so early, so he decided to talk with him. Serrato said he noticed the woman, who later would testify and whose name is being withheld, standing by the house, but he didn't pay much attention to her and lost track of her.

Since Vasquez looked busy, Serrato said he decided to wait for him on a side of the house, and it was while he was waiting that De La Cruz arrived.

Serrato said De La Cruz walked to where he was standing and asked about "Greaser" and about the bike.

Serrato said he told De La Cruz "Greaser" had let him borrow the bike.

Rivera asked Serrato, "Did you call Eddie De La Cruz a bitch."

Serrato said, "No."

Rivera also asked if there were any other problems.

Serrato said, "I wouldn't disrespect him like that."

Serrato then said as he looked away toward Vasquez, De La Cruz struck him about four times in the face, and a second person grabbed him around the neck. Serrato said De La Cruz had something in his hand and was moving toward him again.

"I was fearing for my life," Serrato said, adding he then reached for his knife and swung it

After the melee, Serrato said, he went to a friend's home. There he changed his clothes and cleaned a cut over his right eye.

He then went to his girlfriend's home, and she drove him to Calexico. They stopped along a canal bank, Serrato placed his knife between two tree branches and then threw the knife and branches into the canal.

Serrato then went to Mexicali and remained there for about two weeks before deciding to turn himself in to authorities.

Rivera asked Serrato, "Did you have any reason whatsoever to kill Mr. De La Cruz?"

"No sir," Serrato responded.

Rivera also asked, "Are you lying under oath to avoid going back to state prison?

"No," Serrato said.

Prosecuting attorney Susana Salgado painted a different picture of the events through her line of questioning.

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