Originally created 08/31/99

Judge rejects evidence on intoxication



APPLING -- Despite strong objections from defense attorneys, Superior Court Judge Carlisle Overstreet ruled Monday that evidence showing Mario Molina and Leonel Vazquez were intoxicated the night they were killed will not be allowed in court.

Authorities have charged Narcisco Pascaio Pineda Sr. with murder in the Nov. 26 shooting deaths of Mr. Molina and Mr. Vazquez, both 42, along with Mr. Vazquez's wife, Prisca Rosales Vazquez, 41, and the couple's unborn child.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Mr. Pineda, 48, whose trial is scheduled to begin next week in Columbia County Superior Court.

Judge Overstreet said he may reconsider his ruling at a later date, but only if the defense could lay a legal foundation making the blood-alcohol evidence relevant.

But defense attorneys Jacque Hawk and Peter Johnson called the killings self-defense, stating that the victims' blood-alcohol levels was a cornerstone to their case.

Both Mr. Vazquez and Mr. Molina had more than three times the legal driving limit, according to a Dec. 2 autopsy report provided by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

"We are presenting a self-defense case in which it is absolutely relevant to understand the state of mind of the victims," Mr. Johnson said. "It would be impossible not to talk about the fact that these people had been drinking heavily."

Mr. Johnson said that he believes evidence will show that it was Mr. Vazquez who provoked his client, and who initially pulled a gun and fired the first shot.

Mr. Johnson contends that first bullet struck the defendant's son, and Mr. Pineda fired back in retaliation.

The defense also intends to prove Mr. Vazquez had a history of pointing guns while intoxicated and that he fired at least two shots on the night of Nov. 26, he said.

Other issues discussed during Monday's hearing included Mr. Pineda's safety during the trial, and while in transit to and from the detention center.

Six armed guards escorted Mr. Pineda into the courtroom on Monday afternoon. Officers have instructed him to lie down while riding in the security van and to keep his head away from the windows.

Columbia County officials said they have not directly received any threats to Mr. Pineda's life, but intend to take no chances with his safety.

"The only mention of threats to his life that I am aware of have come from his attorneys," said Capt. John Wheeler, Columbia County Detention Center administrator. "So far, we haven't received any threats, but that doesn't mean we aren't taking it seriously."

Attorneys on both sides predict jury selection to take a week. Though jurors will not initially be sequestered, the defense retained its right to sequester the jury later in the trial if necessary.

Scotty Fletcher can be reached at 868-1222, Ext. 111, or ccchron@augustachroncile.com.