Jury: Gomez guilty of manslaughter

HOLLIDAYSBURG – A Blair County jury on Friday night convicted an Altoona man of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and two related charges in the fatal shooting death of 28-year-old Kai “Castro” Carter on May 3, 2015.

In choosing involuntary manslaughter, the jury of seven men and five women acquitted 35-year-old Jorge “Macho” Gomez III of first-degree murder, third-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.

“My client is happy with the verdict,” said defense attorney Thomas M. Dickey, who tried to convince the jury that Carter was the aggressor and that Gomez fired his gun because he felt threatened.

“From the beginning, he has always said that he was not trying to kill anybody,” Dickey said. “I think the jury believed that because of the shot in (Carter’s) leg and the circumstances.”

Judge Elizabeth Doyle set a sentencing date of Dec. 6 and established bail at $500,000.

Because of a first-degree murder count that was possible under a criminal homicide charge, Gomez previously was ineligible for bail. He has been in the Blair County Prison since May 3, 2015, when he turned himself in after the shooting at the rear of 111 S. Eighth St.

Based on the state’s sentencing guidelines, Gomez could be looking at an estimated 6 to seven years in jail with credit for time served. But attorneys will be in a position to ask Judge Elizabeth Doyle for lesser or greater amounts.

“I can’t speculate on that request right now,” First Assistant District Attorney Jackie Bernard said Friday night.

“But we would expect to offer victim impact testimony on the day of the sentencing and have a recommendation ready after reviewing the options with family members and arresting officers,” Bernard said.

Seated in court minutes before the jury returned with a verdict, Gomez began crying, prompting Dickey to offer him a supportive pat on the shoulder. Gomez was composed by the time the verdict was announced and then was led from the courtroom by sheriff deputies.

Gomez family members, including ones who traveled from New York City to attend the trial, declined comment as they left the courtroom.

Bernard relayed the verdict to Carter’s family members who left the courthouse about an hour before it was rendered.

“They believe the evidence supported a different verdict,” Bernard said. “So they’re going to need some time to absorb this.”

Bernard and Assistant District Attorney Peter Weeks, who offered the closing argument, advocated a verdict of first- or three-degree murder.

“Mr. Dickey’s hypotheticals about this defendant simply do not apply,” Weeks told the jury in his closing.

The shooting occurred on the night of the Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao boxing match.

Witnesses said that Gomez and Carter, who witnesses said had a longtime ongoing dispute, were at the rear of the property after the boxing match concluded. Gomez told Altoona police that Carter wanted to fight and without warning, punched him in the face.

Dickey said that because Gomez was in fear of further harm, he pulled his gun from his waistband.

Testimony indicated that Gomez fired at least two shots. One of the bullets went through Carter’s left thigh and hit his femoral artery, causing him to bleed to death after running from the property. Carter was found dead about a block away.

Weeks asked the jury to focus on the physical evidence, including the path of the bullet that went through Carter’s leg, then through a door frame and into a set of kitchen cabinets. Based on that path, investigators indicated that Carter was standing next to the door and Gomez was a maximum of eight feet away when he fired.

Even if he shot into Carter’s leg, Weeks said, that’s deadly force on a vital part of the body because of the femoral artery.

But Dickey asked the jurors to consider Gomez’s intention.

“Do you believe he aimed for (Carter’s) femoral artery?” Dickey asked.

In charging the jury, Doyle defined involuntary manslaughter as reckless or grossly negligent conduct. She said it disregards the possibility that death could result from the conduct.

In addition to involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, the jury convicted Gomez on charges of aggravated assault and carrying a firearm without a license. While Gomez was the registered owner of the firearm, he did not have the required Pennsylvania permit for carrying a concealed weapon.

The jury rendered its verdict about 6:30 p.m. after almost five hours of deliberations.

It also asked the judge, after about two hours, for a copy of the two interview transcripts that Gomez offered at the Altoona police station, for photographs of the property and if it could question Pennsylvania’s requirement for concealed carry permits. After consulting with attorneys, Doyle answered no to all questions.

She said she would instruct the jury to rely on their recollections and notes.

“We usually don’t send (pieces of evidence to the jury deliberation room) because it starts the whole trial all over again,” she said.