Man guilty of gunning down Navy sailor who stopped to help him

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A man who gunned down a Navy sailor who stopped to assist a stranded motorist on a Logan Heights freeway ramp was convicted Friday of murder and other charges that will have him facing life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Following one day of jury deliberations, Edson Acuna, 26, was found guilty of killing 21-year-old Curtis Adams on Oct. 27, 2018, when Adams stopped to assist the occupants of a seemingly disabled vehicle on the connector ramp between southbound state Route 15 and northbound Interstate 5 about 2 a.m.

Prosecutors say Acuna and three others took part in burglarizing a vehicle parked outside a Mt. Hope home earlier that night and got into a shootout with one of the home's residents, resulting in at least one of the tires on Acuna's car being shot out.

Forced to pull over due to the flat tire, Acuna and the others saw Adams stop on the side of the freeway.

Believing he was the homeowner from the shootout, Acuna shot Adams as the Navy man stepped out of his vehicle, a killing Deputy District Attorney Melissa Vasel described as "nothing less than an execution."

Acuna is slated to be sentenced April 10 for convictions for first- degree murder, robbery, burglary, various firearm counts and a special- circumstance allegation of committing the murder in the commission of a burglary.

His 22-year-old brother Brandon and two other co-defendants, Harvey Liberato, 25, and Susana Galvan, 39, have pleaded guilty to charges ranging from voluntary manslaughter to being an accessory after the fact.

Defense attorney Daniel Cohen denied the evidence supported a first- degree murder conviction, arguing that Acuna fired to defend himself due to his belief that Adams was the homeowner who had previously tried to kill him.

"This was not an execution. This was an accident," Cohen told the jury in his opening statement. "This was a mistake. A tragic mistake, but a mistake nonetheless."

Cohen said Acuna accompanied his brother to the Mt. Hope home, where the younger sibling began burglarizing the homeowner's SUV.

The defense attorney said the homeowner came out of the home, "guns a- blazing," with the intent of killing Acuna and his companions, and that Edson sped away from the home because he believed his brother may have been shot. Cohen argued the homeowner fired first and not in lawful self-defense because the defendants burglarized his vehicle, as opposed to his home.

Then on the freeway, Acuna shot Adams  in "perceived self-defense," Cohen said.

Cohen also argued the special-circumstance allegation, which triggers the life-without-parole sentence, should not apply because the burglary had ended when the group fled the Mt. Hope home.

Acuna's vehicle was found on the freeway about a half-mile from the shooting scene, with Brandon Acuna and Galvan arrested nearby.

Liberato was arrested about a week later, while Edson Acuna was arrested that December in Mexico.

Adams, a Brooklyn native, enlisted in the Navy in 2016. At the time of his death, he was working as a steelworker with Amphibious Construction Battalion 1 at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado.

CNS-02-14-2020 14:48

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