SAN DIEGO – A man accused of killing a beloved Cathedral Catholic High School teacher last year outside of his North Park home was ordered Wednesday to stand trial on a murder charge.

Mario Fierro, a Cathedral Catholic High School teacher, was shot and killed Feb. 1, 2021 outside of his North Park home. Jesse Milton Alvarez was arrested on suspicion of Fierro’s murder the following day and will stand trial on charges of murder, a firearm-use allegation and a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait. (Provided photo)

Jesse Milton Alvarez, 31, was arrested Feb. 2, 2021 at a home in Serra Mesa on suspicion of murdering 37-year-old Mario Fierro. Fierro was found unresponsive shortly after 7 a.m. the previous day on a sidewalk near 4500 Kansas Street with a gunshot wound to the head. He died at the scene.

Prosecutors allege Alvarez was waiting for Fierro — who taught social science at Cathedral Catholic and was the athletic director at Notre Dame Academy — and then shot him as he was getting ready to drive to work.

Prior to the incident, Alvarez’s ex-girlfriend Amy Gembara testified that she had become engaged to Fierro. Gembara said she tried to obtain a restraining order against Alvarez and feared for her life.

“(Alvarez) did not take no for an answer,” she said. “I broke up with him on Sept. 1. Several days later, he wanted to meet up again. I told him no again. A few days after that, he attempted to break into my apartment.”

During Wednesday’s court proceeding, one witness testified Alvarez hired his company to coat his gun white. Another witness testified Alvarez took multiple gun safety classes in one day, which they found to be unusual. Later, a neighbor of Fierro’s testified seeing two men about 7 a.m. fighting on the street, but she said one had what looked like a white handheld thermometer.

“Because it is COVID season, this might sound a bit silly, but I thought maybe he was checking his temperature,” she said. “The other man just looked like he was trying to get away and that’s when I heard the noises.”

According to the prosecution, those noises were gunshots and the white thermometer was Alvarez’s gun coated white and pointed at Fierro’s head. 

Alvarez is charged with murder, a firearm-use allegation and a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait, which refers to hiding and waiting for someone with the intent of killing them. The special circumstance allegation means Alvarez could face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Defense attorney Peter Blair requested that the lying in wait allegation be dismissed, arguing the prosecution had not proven that Alvarez had ambushed Fierro, and that the shooting may have resulted from a mutual fight.

According to Deputy District Attorney Ramona McCarthy, surveillance footage showed Alvarez left the Serra Mesa residence at around 6 a.m. and was in Fierro’s neighborhood not long after. Coupled with the defendant’s internet activity, the prosecutor said the evidence showed Alvarez spent “ample time meticulously searching and educating himself on how to kill Mr. Fierro.”

She also alleged that Alvarez specifically chose the date of Feb. 1 knowing Fierro would head out to work that morning, as it was the day Cathedral Catholic High School resumed in-person classes, which were previously suspended for pandemic-related reasons.

At a vigil held last year to honor Fierro, those in attendance said he was “Mr. Popular” and would be impossible to replace.

“There was no other coach that just lived and breathed every move on the field, every success,” teacher Katie Wilson said. “Watching him on the sidelines was worth attending any game — that’s why I would go to watch.”

Students say Fierro believed deeply in faith, put his heart into teaching history and coaching football at the same school attended in the 2000s.

City News Service contributed to this report.