Patrick Newell was defending himself when he doused another man with gasoline and set him on fire, his attorney told Las Vegas jurors Tuesday during opening statements.
But prosecutors said Newell continued to threaten Theodore Bejarano even after he was burned.
Newell, 62, is on trial in Clark County District Court, facing charges of attempted murder, battery with a deadly weapon, assault with a deadly weapon and disregard for safety of person or property.
Bejarano, 35, was “drunk and belligerent” a little before 1 a.m. on Oct. 10, 2012, when he demanded a ride from Newell in a “threatening and menacing way” at a south valley convenience store, defense attorney Seth Gutierrez said.
Newell believed his life was in danger, Gutierrez said.
Bejarano was gambling at a video poker machine inside Circle K, at 9487 Las Vegas Blvd. South, and ran out of 15031 before he approached Newell and asked for a ride home.
As they both stood next to Newell’s pickup, Newell pulled out a pocket knife and threatened to cut Bejarano, prosecutor Robert Stephens said.
But Bejarano wouldn’t leave Newell alone as he tried to pump gas. Newell then pointed the nozzle at Bejarano and sprayed his eyes and shirt with gasoline.
Bejarano wiped the gasoline from his eyes and approached Newell once more, before Newell sprayed Bejarano again and pulled out a lighter.
He flicked the lighter three times to scare Bejarano off.
“I’m going to light you on fire,” Stephens quoted Newell as saying.
The jury watched clips from a security video that showed Newell then using a lighter to set Bejarano’s shirt ablaze. A flash engulfed Bejarano, and he quickly took off his clothes.
Newell pulled out his knife again, ordering Bejarano to “stay right there,” Gutierrez said.
Prosecutors said Newell threatened to cut off Bejarano’s penis.
Bejarano suffered second-degree burns on 10 percent to 15 percent of his body, mainly on his left side and both arms, police said at the time.
Stephens said Bejarano was in a coma for several days after being burned.
Gutierrez called Newell the victim in the case, saying, “He did everything he could to get this drunk, this belligerent, unpredictable man to just go away and leave him alone.”
Newell initially wanted to use the nozzle as a weapon to defend himself and was surprised that gasoline sprayed out because he thought the lock would stop the gas flow, the defense attorney said.
“Patrick is in fear of his life,” Gutierrez said. “He has poked the hornet’s nest.”
When Bejarano wouldn’t leave, Newell tried to protect himself.
“Patrick Newell was reasonable,” Gutierrez said. “He did what he thought he had to do to defend himself. He didn’t choose to be threatened that night. Patrick Newell didn’t head over to the Circle K, looking for a fight. ... Patrick Newell was the victim here. ... He did everything he thought reasonably necessary to avoid a fight.”