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Attorney Downplays Murder of Black Navy Sailor Who Stopped to Help California Man on Roadside, Claiming His Client Acted In ‘Perceived Self-Defense’

A California man faces life in prison after a jury convicted him Friday in the murder of a Navy sailor who stopped to help who he thought were stranded motorists.

Edson Acuna was found guilty in the fatal shooting of 21-year-old Curtis Adams. Adams, a New York native, was working as a steelworker at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado when he was gunned down by Acuna, 26, on a Logan Heights freeway ramp in 2018, according to FOX 5 San Diego.

Edson Acuna and Curtis Adams

Edson Acuna (left) faces life in prison without the possibility of parole after allegedly killing U.S. sailor Curtis Adams in 2018. (Photos: FOX 5 San Diego/video screenshot)

The fatal shooting unfolded in the wee hours of Oct. 27, 2018, after Acuna and three others were caught burglarizing a homeowner’s SUV. The group engaged in a shootout with the resident, who a prosecutor in the case said was targeted. Acuna reportedly swiped painting tools, ladders and buckets from the Chevrolet Tahoe before the owner exchanged gunfire with Acuna and others.

The group fled but was forced to pull over because the owner had shot out two of their tires. That’s when Adams stopped on the side of the freeway to help the motorists; it would cost him his life in what Deputy District Attorney Melissa Vasel decried as “nothing less than an execution.”

Mistaking the sailor for the homeowner who had shot at them minutes before — according to Acuna’s attorney — Acuna opened fire on Adams as he stepped out his vehicle, striking him in the chest.

At trial, the victim’s girlfriend, who witnessed the shooting, said Adams told her he was “going to be a good Samaritan today” and pulled up behind the Toyota to offer his assistance.

A lawyer for the defendant challenged the first-degree murder conviction, arguing there wasn’t sufficient evidence. Attorney Daniel Cohen called the shooting a “tragic mistake” and insisted his client had acted in “perceived self-defense” because he believed Adams was the gun-toting homeowner from earlier that night.

“This was not an execution. This was an accident,” Cohen told the court. “This was a mistake. A tragic mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.”

A San Diego jury convicted Acuna on eight felony counts, including first-degree murder, burglary, various firearm charges and a special-circumstance allegation of committing the murder during a burglary, the San Diego Union Tribune reported. The special-circumstance allegation carries a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The jury acquitted Acuna, 26, of a ninth charge for shooting at an occupied house.

Acuna’s car was found about a half a mile away on the freeway where Adams was shot dead. Authorities arrested him in Mexico two months after the shooting,

The suspect’s brother, 22-year-old Brandon, plead guilty in January to voluntary manslaughter and two other accomplices also have entered guilty pleas. All may be sentenced at the time Acuna faces sentencing, April 10.

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