MARTINEZ -- Rafael Zarate was a "classic stalker" who knew he was going to kill his ex-girlfriend two days before he stabbed her to death, prosecutor Rachel Piersig told a jury Wednesday during closing arguments in Zarate's murder and stalking trial.
Rejecting much of Zarate's testimony about the killing and the events that led up to it, Piersig asked the jury for a verdict of murder in the first degree. Such a verdict would require that the act was willful, deliberate and premeditated, or that it occurred during the commission of a felony.
Piersig argued that the Sept. 20, 2011, stabbing death of Jensy Romero, 30, in the bathroom of a Richmond restaurant where she worked as a waitress, qualified on both counts.
The felony, she said, would be Zarate entering the restaurant intent on committing false imprisonment against Romero, a Richmond resident and single mother of two.
Public defender Michael Lepie argued that Zarate, 44, acted impulsively, without deliberation, and that the false imprisonment theory was "a distraction."
"Mr. Zarate was going to that bar every single night" to see Romero, Lepie said. "This day was no different."
That day became different when Romero told Zarate she was seeing another man. Zarate's "reason and judgment were overwhelmed," said Lepie, who asked for a verdict of voluntary manslaughter. "This case is the definition of a crime of passion."
Zarate and Romero had an on-again, off-again relationship over 15 months even as both were seeing other people. Showing the jury logs of text messages and phone calls between the two, Piersig noted that from July to August in 2011, their electronic communication became increasingly one-way, from Zarate to Romero. Romero broke up with Zarate in early September.
At one point during Piersig's presentation, Zarate, seated at the defense table, grew agitated and began talking to Lepie. As his voice grew louder, a bailiff came up from behind Zarate and told him in a forceful tone, "You need to stop talking." Zarate was silent for the rest of the proceedings.
Piersig focused on two text messages, one on Sept. 16 in which Zarate wrote that unless Romero reconciled with him, she would "be responsible for a tragedy." In his testimony Monday, Zarate said the tragedy to which he referred would be his suicide.
Piersig argued Wednesday that Zarate never displayed any suicidal behavior.
The second text was sent from Zarate to two of his daughters on Sept. 18, in which he gave them his address "just in case" and told them he loved them.
"He was not suicidal -- he was homicidal," Piersig said. "He knew he was going to kill her."
"That's just an assumption," countered Lepie.
Lepie portrayed Zarate as sad and lovelorn in the wake of his breakup with Romero, someone who didn't intend to kill her until the day at the bar when she teased him about being emotional and told him she intended to "give her love to someone else."
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.