- Associated Press - Thursday, February 27, 2014

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A North Las Vegas man who used a drunken blackout as his defense was found guilty of attempted murder and two other felony charges Wednesday in a machete attack that nearly hacked off his ex-girlfriend’s arms.

The jury also convicted Armando Vergara-Martinez of mayhem and domestic battery with a weapon - charges he didn’t contest during his two-day trial in Nevada state court.

Vergara-Martinez, 51, faces the possibility of a life in prison sentence, prosecutor Marc DiGiacomo said.

Clark County District Judge Abbi Silver set sentencing for May 1.

Deputy Clark County Public Defender Tegan Machnich called the case a tragedy, and said she expected Vergara-Martinez would appeal.

Vergara-Martinez was the only witness in his defense. He told the jury Wednesday that he had no memory of attacking Maria Del Carmen Gomez in March 2012 outside a convenience store where she worked, and he denied ever thinking about killing Gomez.

But DiGiacomo derided Vergara-Martinez’s claim that he was too drunk to remember splitting his ex-girlfriend’s scalp and nearly severing her arms with an 18-inch machete.

“Being blackout drunk doesn’t give you an excuse to try to behead a woman,” he told the jury during closing arguments. “The only question is whether when he swung the machete, he intended to kill her.”

Gomez survived the attack, and surgeons repaired her scalp and reattached her hands.

She spent several months as an advocate and spokeswoman for tougher laws against domestic violence before she died six months later from unrelated cancer. She was 53.

Gomez’s friends and supporters staged a protest Monday on the courthouse steps to call attention to Vergara-Martinez’s trial, and someone in the court gallery clapped a couple of times Wednesday after DiGiacomo urged the jury to return a guilty verdict.

The judge instructed jurors to disregard the outburst from the audience and declared that if she knew who did it she would throw him or her in jail for contempt of court. The judge rejected defense attorney Kambiz Shaygan’s request for a mistrial on the claim that the jury had been tainted.

Vergara-Martinez’s public defenders on Tuesday conceded his guilt on the mayhem and domestic battery with a weapon charges, which alone could get him three to 25 years in state prison.

Machnich said that showed that Vergara-Martinez took responsibility for his actions.

When Vergara-Martinez testified Wednesday, Shaygan asked if he remembered anything about the attack or at any point wanting to kill Gomez.

No, Vergara-Martinez responded through a Spanish-language interpreter.

“I don’t remember because I was drunk,” he said.

Jurors were told that Vergara-Martinez left a letter before the attack and slit his own throat with a box cutter afterward. North Las Vegas police found him next to Gomez in a pool of blood.

Vergara-Martinez testified that the letter was in his handwriting, but he didn’t remember writing it.

It speaks of Gomez betraying him, seeks forgiveness from his children and says, “I know I am doing wrong for what I’m about to do to Maria.”

Vergara-Martinez wept as he testified that after getting off work as a landscaper about 1 p.m., he drank several 24-ounce cans of beer in a park and had several drinks at a bar before the attack a little before 11:30 p.m.

He said he was upset that Gomez broke up with him.

DiGiacomo set a scene during closing arguments of Gomez on the ground, using her arms to try to shield her head from the attack, and mocked the idea that Vergara-Martinez could drink away his criminal responsibility.

“He admitted to you what he can’t deny,” DiGiacomo said of the defendant. “It’s irrelevant whether he remembers committing the crime. It matters whether he intended to kill.”


Find Ken Ritter on Twitter: https://twitter.com/krttr

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