ELKO — As the verdict was read, Patrick Dunn stood straight facing the jury that found him guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting of Erik Espitia.
Dunn shot Espitia in the chest following an eight-person melee at about 3 a.m. May 27 in the downtown corridor.
He was charged with open murder with the use of a deadly weapon — which includes first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter all in the alternative. He was also charged and found guilty of attempted willful destruction or concealment of evidence for hiding the handgun under a tree near his home.
Nearly 24 hours after the jury entered deliberation, the 23-year-old defendant was called back into court to hear its decision.
Members of Erik Espitia’s family quietly filed out of the courtroom shortly after the verdict was read.
“It does give some closure,” Esther Espitia, sister of Erik Espitia and a witness in the trial, said before leaving.
Prior to summoning the jury, District Judge Al Kacin told family members, friends and all present in the courtroom, which included more than a dozen law enforcement officers, that he understood any verdict could potentially illicit an emotional response. But in deference to the jury, Kacin said, he wouldn’t tolerate any outbursts.
All present remained quiet during the proceeding.
Jury selection for the trial began Oct. 30, with opening arguments and testimony commencing the following day.
During the trial, District Attorney Mark Torvinen argued that the fight had essentially ended by the time Dunn fired his gun. He also argued Dunn shot Espitia because he was drunk and angry.
Defense attorney John Ohlson, who wasn’t present in court when the verdict was read, argued Dunn was acting in self-defense. Dunn was not the aggressor in the fight, he said, and was being attacked when he shot Erik Espitia. Dunn feared for his life and the life of his friends, Ohlson said.
As a result of the fight, Brandon Evans, one of Dunn’s friends, was care-flighted to Salt Lake City for treatment. He suffered bone fractures at the base of his skull and a vertebra, among other injuries.
Sentencing was scheduled for 9 a.m.Jan. 25.
The court is limited in its discretion when sentencing a person convicted of second-degree murder. By statute, Dunn will either be sentenced to life in prison or 25 years in prison. In either case, he will be eligible for parole after 10 years. Probation is not an option.
In addition, a “deadly weapon” enhancement is attached to Dunn’s second-degree murder charge, which adds a consecutive sentence of one to 20 years.
In the jail courtroom, Kacin also heard a motion by the defense to grant bail.
Torvinen asked Kacin to consider the possibility of flight for one facing a lengthy prison sentence.
“Human nature is such that someone would have to seriously consider the alternative (to returning to court), and I’m talking about fleeing,” Torvinen said.
If bail were to be issued, Torvinen argued, it needed to be high enough to dissuade Dunn from running.
“In a case like this, where there is a potential life sentence ... I’m suggesting to you that it has to be well over $100,000,” Torvinen said.
Ohlson, who attended the motion hearing telephonically, said bail should not be set to an amount that ostensibly makes it impossible for Dunn to post.
Kacin told the defense he would review the case file and issue an order soon.
In September, Kacin heard a similar motion for Dunn in which the DA asked for no bail lower than $250,000 and the defense asked for $10,000 bail.
On that motion, Kacin denied granting any bail.