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Richard Delgado

The fate of a young San Jose man who admitted running over a defenseless neighbor is once again in the hands of 12 men and women -- after the jury in his first murder trial struggled to reach a verdict and finally gave up.

A lot has changed since Richard Delgado's first trial last year on charges he intentionally aimed his 2,500-pound Honda Civic at Donna Fife, crushing her sternum and cracking 19 ribs.

Delgado, now 24, is still pleading not guilty to one count of murder. He has the same defense attorney and the same prosecutor.

But some of the differences between the two trials may make it easier for the new jury to reach a unanimous verdict.

The panel of nine women and three men is expected to begin deliberating Thursday.

One difference between the two trials is this time Delgado's lawyer Glenn Sugihara did not present any evidence in defense of his client. He argued to the jury that he didn't need to because prosecutor James Leonard lacked sufficient proof to convict the slender young man with a deadpan expression of either first- or second-degree murder.

The penalty for a first-degree murder conviction is 25 years to life; for second-degree, 15 to life.

The events that unfolded the night of Jan. 19, 2009, left Fife's South San Jose housing tract shocked and horrified at the loss of a woman many considered the nicest person in the neighborhood.

'Watch this'


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Fife was trying to jot down Delgado's license-plate number to report an earlier hit-and-run accident he had caused, when Delgado backed up at an angle, then accelerated forward, and, according to prosecutor James Leonard, turned to run the blond woman down.

Just before he accelerated, one of her neighbors heard him say something like, "Watch this"; another heard, "I'm gonna get you."

Sugihara did present a short closing argument Wednesday, urging the jury to disregard the latter comment and interpret the former one as Delgado showing off. He also contended that the prosecutor failed to answer the key question in the case: "What was going on inside Richard's head?"

"Richard Delgado is a reckless young teenage driver who has run from responsibility (before)," Sugihara said, "but he is not a murderer."

In contrast, Leonard presented more evidence during this trial to support his contention that Delgado is guilty. To win a conviction, Leonard has to prove Delgado either intended to kill Fife, or that he showed a conscious disregard for her safety.

"He changed course to get to her," Leonard said. "He didn't hit the light pole, or other houses. He hit what he wanted to hit."

Jurors heard much more detail about Delgado's terrible driving record and lengthy criminal history because the new judge overseeing the trial, Michele McKay McCoy, allowed the new testimony.

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Delgado has a long record of reckless driving, including one incident in which he drove 90-100 mph on Highway 101, causing a chain-reaction collision. One of his victims testified during this trial that her 10-year-old son was in the car when he slammed into her.

Delgado's former probation officer and several other law enforcement officials also testified in detail about how they had repeatedly warned him he was going to kill someone someday if he kept driving so recklessly.

Leonard also put jail guards on the stand who testified about two separate, recent incidents in which Delgado used a shank to stab fellow inmates -- and the attorney even displayed photographs of their bloody injuries. He said they were clear signs of Delgado's lack of credibility and "willingness to do evil."

In both cases, the inmates were cuffed with their hands behind their backs and the guards were right there. In one incident, Delgado tricked the inmate by offering him a newspaper -- then stabbed him in the back instead -- as the man turned to accept it.

Unlike the last trial, jurors in the current proceedings are allowed to submit written questions. The judge also gave a jailhouse informant who knew both Fife and Delgado much more leeway to explain his relationship with Fife -- to the point where the man broke down and cried about how kind she was to him.

Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.