A transient accused of attacking a homeless man in his tent at a makeshift camp in Grantville, then throwing a wooden pallet on top of the tent and setting it on fire — resulting in the victim’s death six weeks later — was ordered Wednesday to stand trial on murder and arson charges that could lead to the death penalty.
Sergio Padilla Chavez, 26, is accused in the death last July 4 of Jose Jesus Hernandez.
Deputy District Attorney Kyle Sutterley said Chavez — a U.S. citizen who lives in Tijuana — got into an argument with Hernandez about 9 p.m. in the 10900 block of San Diego Mission Road and allegedly stabbed the victim in the side and hit him in the head with a rock.
Chavez allegedly threw a wooden pallet on top of the 63-year-old victim used a makeshift blowtorch and an open flame to set the pallet on fire, burning Hernandez over 15 percent of his body.
Some good Samaritans pulled the victim from underneath the burning materials and called 911, then noticed another transient loitering in a nearby patch of shrubbery, watching them. When police and firefighters arrived, the lurking drifter — later identified as Chavez — tried to leave, but was detained for questioning.
Paramedics took the victim to a hospital for treatment of life- threatening injuries, but he died last Aug. 19 of complications from blunt head trauma and pneumonia.
Police said Chavez told them that Hernandez — who had befriended Chavez and let him stay in his camp — made a comment about Chavez’s deceased mother which made the defendant angry the day of the attack.
A police officer testified that Chavez, in the back of a patrol car, said, “I set the gentlemen on fire,” referring to Hernandez.
Judge Sharon Majors-Lewis ruled that enough evidence was presented for Chavez to stand trial for murder with a special circumstance allegation of murder by arson. A Superior Court arraignment was scheduled for Jan. 25.
–City News Service
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: