A man who spent 16 months in jail awaiting trial in what he maintained was a self-defense shooting has been cleared of murder charges. After deliberating for about two hours Friday, a Pima County Superior Court jury acquitted Alejandro Soto, 21, of first-degree murder and all other charges related to the May 18, 1998, shooting of Joel Rodriguez. Police found Rodriguez, 29, dead at about 2:40 p.m. in the 500 block of North Westmoreland Avenue, near an alley entrance with a handgun nearby.
Neighbors reported hearing five or six shots in rapid succession. Detectives arrested Soto that evening, alleging that the shooting erupted as part of an ongoing argument. Defense attorney David Alan Darby said Rodriguez, the brother of Soto's girlfriend, had threatened in a letter from prison to hurt Soto with a machete. The dispute arose over how Rodriguez's children were disciplined while he was in prison on drug charges, Darby said. Darby said Soto armed himself after Rodriguez had beaten him in a confrontation the night before the shooting. The next afternoon, he said, Rodriguez was armed and threatened Soto, but Soto shot him six times at close range before Rodriguez could fire his own weapon.
"He's a nice kid," Darby said of Soto. "He did the only thing he thought he could do under the circumstances. . . . And the jury agreed. "Darby said Soto cried when he heard the verdict.