Prosecutors on Thursday asked a jury to convict a Colorado Springs prison inmate of second-degree murder, alleging that he cornered a fellow prisoner “like an animal” and stomped him to death in a feud over a television remote control.
“What in the world would justify you punching an old man who’s down and out, let alone stomping him?” prosecutor Grant Libby asked during closing arguments at the trial of Danny Lee Gonzalez, emphasizing witness accounts that Gonzalez held onto a bunk bed to increase the power of his blows as he repeatedly brought his foot down on an unconscious Daniel Pena’s face.
The deadly attack came Nov. 19, 2017, at the Cheyenne Mountain Re-entry Center in Colorado Springs, a private, for-profit facility that holds Colorado prison inmates before their release.
Gonzalez, 40, is accused of fatally injuring Pena, 64, after Pena accused him of hoarding a TV remote 12 hours earlier. The older man collapsed within a half-hour of the assault and didn’t regain consciousness. He was pronounced dead a week later.
Both inmates were eligible for parole, and their release dates were within sight.
Attorneys for Gonzalez say he only wanted to confront Pena for spreading rumors that Gonzalez had sucker-punched him during their earlier confrontation.
When Pena rose up from his bunk and took an initial swing, Gonzalez was forced to act, said public defender Kayla Wingard.
“Mr. Pena started something, and they started fighting,” she told the jury. Gonzalez hit Pena and knocked him down but never kicked him, she said.
Despite the tragic result, her client had no intent to kill or knowledge that his actions would lead to the victim’s death, Wingard said. Accounts of a stomping were based partly on gossip and partly on inmates telling authorities what they wanted to hear for fear of losing their shot at parole, she said.
The six-man, six-woman jury, which began deliberations shortly after noon, recessed at 5:30 p.m. without reaching a verdict and will resume deliberations at 8:45 a.m. Friday.
Despite prisoners’ largely agreeing to stay mum about what happens among inmates — part of an informal “code” that governs their relations — six witnesses stepped forward to describe a deadly stomping, prosecutors said, spawning courtroom battles over their credibility and their motives for cooperating.
Attorneys for Gonzalez pointed to a surveillance video that shows Gonzalez walking out of Pena’s bunk room after the 40-second encounter, showing no sign of blood on his pants or shirt. That’s an indication Gonzalez didn’t mount a brutal attack as alleged, and should be acquitted of second-degree murder and the lesser charge of first-degree assault, they said.
Referring to the same footage, prosecutor Brent Nelson pointed out that Gonzalez had the upper hand — in the form of five fellow inmates who fanned out around Pena as the confrontation unfolded.
On his way back to his room, Gonzalez can be seen flashing a grin, Nelson said.
“This is not the face of someone who had to act in self-defense,” he said.
If convicted of second-degree murder, Gonzalez faces at least 48 years in prison.