Defense: Accused killer didn’t understand he had copped to murder

05/23/2014 8:00 AM |

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | The criminal court building at the County Center.

At first, Guillermo Alvarado-Ajcuc — sitting in a chair against the corner of the small interview room — tells the two Suffolk County homicide detectives that the girl he was with outside the Sabor Latino restaurant in Riverhead fell down.

He says in Spanish that he left soon after she fell, with a friend.

The detectives tell him they know that’s not the truth.

Detective Tulio Serrata says in Spanish to Mr. Alvarado-Ajcuc that he needs to be honest, that telling them what happened will “lift the weight” off of him, according to a court translation of a video that was showed on Wednesday.

The suspect looks down and the detectives press closer to him.

Mr. Serrata asks what happened to Mariam Yohana Garcia Mancilla that night, the last time she was seen alive. He then asks Mr. Alvarado-Ajcuc if he believes in God, and asks if God “gives forgiveness.”

Mr. Alvarado-Ajcuc — who doesn’t speak English —  puts his hand over his face, then wipes his eyes with his shirt.

“I didn’t realize it,” he tells the detectives, according to a court translation of his words. “I was really drunk … I didn’t realize what I had done.”

A six-hour-long interrogation video purportedly showing Mr. Alvarado-Ajcuc’s confession to Ms. Garcia Mancilla’s rape and murder in May 2012 was the focus of two days of testimony at the Riverhead man’s trial Wednesday and Thursday in Suffolk County court.

Mr. Serrata testified on Wednesday that he read Mr. Alvarado-Ajcuc his rights in Spanish, and insisted that the suspect understood what was happening.

But the accused’s defense attorney, Eilleen Powers, pressed the detective on Thursday, asking whether her client actually fully understood what detectives were saying. She noted that Mr. Alvarado-Ajcuc — who had been living in the country for four years illegally at the time of the killing — spoke a Mayan language during a phone call after questioning, also caught on video.

Guillermo Alvarado-Ajcuc

Guillermo Alvarado-Ajcuc

The jury viewed roughly two hours of the video this week.

At no point in the video does he ask for a lawyer; police say they had read him his rights beforehand.

Soon after Mr. Alvarado-Ajcuc says in Spanish in the video that he “didn’t realize” what he had done, detectives asked him how Ms. Garcia Mancilla died.

“With the belt,” he said in Spanish, according to the video. “It’s what I had on.”

Mr. Serrata testified that police had not yet released Ms. Garcia Mancilla’s cause of death, so Mr. Alvarado-Ajcuc could not have known she was strangled.

In the video, Mr. Serrata has the defendant demonstrate how he wrapped the belt around the victim’s neck and twisted it tight until she had stopped fighting. In the video, Mr. Alvarado-Ajcuc also agrees — after being pressed by detectives — that he had sex with Ms. Garcia Mancilla during the struggle behind the Riverhead DMV parking lot.

At first, the accused said the victim had made sexual advances toward him, but the victim’s sister testified on Tuesday that Ms. Garcia Mancilla was gay, and had not had a relationship with a man since coming to the U.S.

Mr. Alvarado-Ajcuc later signs a statement written by Mr. Serrata in English, outlining that he killed the victim and left her in the bushes behind the parking lot.

But Ms. Powers pointed to a section of the video in which Mr. Alvarado-Ajcuc speaks on the phone to his father while in the interview room. The accused speaks in Kaqchikel, a language native to where he is from in Guatemala.

“It wasn’t any kind of Spanish I was aware of,” Mr. Serrata said during his cross-examination.

At one point in the video, after allegedly admitting to the crime, Mr. Alvarado-Ajcuc said in Spanish that he understood “a little” of what was going on.

Since Mr. Serrata testified that since Mr. Alvarado-Ajcuc had been speaking in Spanish during the interrogation, the detective said he didn’t ask the suspect whether he spoke, wrote or read Spanish for that reason.

“We were speaking Spanish from the minute [we met],” he said.

psquire@timesreview.com

Correction: A sentence from an earlier version of this article mistakenly said that Detective Tulio Serrata doesn’t speak English. The sentence should have read that Guillermo Alvarado-Ajcuc, the defendant in the trial, doesn’t speak English.