Judge denies motion to dismiss charges in fatal, fiery transient attack

SAN DIEGO — A motion to dismiss charges was denied Friday for a transient accused of attacking a homeless man in his tent in Grantville and setting it on fire, resulting in the victim’s death six weeks later.

Sergio Padilla Chavez, 27, is charged with murder and a special circumstance allegation of murder by arson in the July 4, 2017 death of Jose Jesus Hernandez.

Deputy District Attorney Kyle Sutterley said Chavez — a U.S. citizen who lives in Tijuana — got into an argument with Hernandez about 9 p.m. in the 10900 block of San Diego Mission Road and allegedly stabbed the victim in the side and hit him in the head with a rock.

Chavez allegedly threw a wooden pallet on top of the 63-year-old victim and used a makeshift blowtorch and an open flame to set the pallet on fire, burning Hernandez over 15 percent of his body.

Some good Samaritans pulled the victim from underneath the burning materials and called 911, then noticed another transient loitering in a nearby patch of shrubbery, watching them. When police and firefighters arrived, the lurking drifter — later identified as Chavez — tried to leave, but was detained for questioning.

Paramedics took the victim to a hospital for treatment of life- threatening injuries, and he died on Aug. 19, 2017, of complications from blunt head trauma and pneumonia, authorities said.

Police said Chavez told them that Hernandez — who had befriended Chavez and let him stay in his camp — made a comment about Chavez’s deceased mother which made the defendant angry the day of the attack.

A police officer testified during a preliminary hearing in January that Chavez, in the back of a patrol car, said, “I set the gentlemen on fire.”

District Attorney Summer Stephan has yet to decide whether Chavez will face the death penalty or life in prison without parole if he’s convicted.

Trial is set for Feb. 11 of next year.