A 63-year-old Las Vegas man who sprayed another man with gasoline and set him ablaze was cleared Thursday of an attempted murder charge.
But after deliberating for about 90 minutes, a Clark County jury found Patrick Newell guilty on three other counts: battery with a deadly weapon, attempted assault with a deadly weapon and performance of an act in reckless disregard of person or property.
Wearing a blue button-down shirt and beige pants, Newell appeared relieved as his attorneys patted his shoulder when he was acquitted on the most serious charge.
Defense attorney Scott Coffee said he was “glad that the jury saw that he wasn’t trying to kill anybody,” but disappointed that Newell was convicted on the other counts.
Coffee told jurors in closing arguments Thursday that Newell was “accosted” at a Circle K on South Las Vegas Boulevard by Theodore Bejarano, who was younger and stronger.
“Make no mistake, Bejarano was a predator,” Coffee said. “Any reasonable person in Newell’s position would be shaking in their boots.”
He played a security video that showed Newell igniting a lighter on Bejarano’s gasoline-soaked shirt, pointing out that Newell quickly reached at the flames in an attempt to pat the fire.
Throughout the three-day trial in Clark County District Court, prosecutors tried to show that Newell had grave intentions, and that he continued to threaten then 35-year-old Bejarano with a knife even after he was burned.
“He’s lucky he’s not on trial for murder, because his actions are indicative of intent to kill,” prosecutor Hetty Wong said during closing arguments. “He knew what he was doing, and he meant what he did. He’s just lucky he didn’t kill the victim. … He’s lucky he didn’t kill anybody else at the gas station that night. It’s dangerous enough to set anything on fire anywhere. But when the defendant lit the victim on fire at a gas station in front of a gas pump, he put the lives of everybody who was at or near the gas station in jeopardy that night.”
After the verdict, Wong said, “It’s always hard to prove a defendant’s intent.”
Bejarano 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 told jurors when the trial opened.
A day before the jury reached the verdict, Newell testified that he was afraid of Bejarano, who pestered him several times for a ride home. Newell said he repeatedly asked Bejarano to leave.
“I’m not angry,” Newell said, recalling the encounter. “I’m confused. I’m concerned, wondering if he’s going to take the truck, rob me. … I just couldn’t understand why he kept persisting.”
Prosecutors acknowledged that Bejarano was “annoying” that night, but said Newell could have stopped engaging with Bejarano, walked away from him or driven away from the gas station.
Bejarano had been gambling at a video poker machine inside the convenience store, and ran out of cash before he approached Newell and asked for a ride home.
When Bejarano didn’t walk away, Newell walked back inside the convenience store and asked a clerk to call the police.
Newell returned to his pickup truck parked next to a gas pump, and Bejarano was still there, standing by the truck as Newell 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.
On the security video, a flash engulfed Bejarano, and he quickly removed his burning his clothes.
Afterward, 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 to 15 percent of his body, mainly on his left side and both arms. He was hospitalized for two weeks and placed in a medically induced coma.
Newell is scheduled to be sentenced August 21.
Contact reporter David Ferrara at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039. Find him on Twitter: @randompoker.