A homeless man who stabbed another man to death on the banks of the Little Arkansas River last year was sentenced Thursday to 7 1/2 years in prison.
Zachary A. Contreras, 29, pleaded guilty in September to voluntary manslaughter in the stabbing death of Francisco J. Tito Perez, 39, who lived in the apartments at 400 W. Central. He also pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for threatening another man with a knife during the confrontation.
The incident prompted the city to remove some decaying docks and a concrete path next to the apartments. Residents said the path had been a hangout for homeless people who gathered there to drink.
Defense lawyer Pamela Parker said Contreras was defending himself and his cousin on the night of Sept. 1, 2012, when they were confronted by Perez, who she said didnt approve of homeless people gathering near his apartment.
Basically Mr. Contreras was defending himself and defending his cousin, but he took it too far, Parker said. This was a situation where Mr. Perez was arguably the aggressor.
An autopsy report showed that at the time of his death, Perez had a blood-alcohol level of 0.24, three times the legal limit for driving. The report said he was stabbed more than a half-dozen times.
Monica Perez, the victims sister, told District Judge Joe Kisner that Tito Perez was a father figure for his nieces and nephews, and she urged him to impose the maximum sentence.
He took a big part of our family away from us, your honor, she said.
Prosecutor Robert Short also argued for the maximum sentence, arguing that Contreras would still be a relatively young man when released from prison.
This defendant will be released in his 30s, he said. The family will be without Tito Perez forever.
In the end Kisner did impose the maximum sentence 77 months on the manslaughter charge and 13 months on the aggravated charge and ordered the sentences to run consecutively.
It does appear that the victim does have to bear a limited amount of blame for being in the situation that occurred, he said. Mr. Contreras greatly over-reacted, and his actions ultimately cost the victim his life. There is no way to fix that. Theres nothing the court or anybody else can do other than deal with the damage thats been done.