Oct 17, 2023
SALINAS, Calif. —
The defense in the Gustavo Morales murder trial started presenting their case Monday morning, and defense attorney Michael Belter wasted no time in putting the accused killer on the witness stand as his first witness.
Morales is charged with the shooting death of Salinas Officer Jorge ‘JD’ Alvarado during a traffic stop in early 2022.
On the witness stand, Morales admitted to shooting the 25-year-old officer, describing a kill-or-get-killed mentality.
Soon after Morales was pulled over near the corner of Griffin and East Market streets for a busted front light and loud muffler, Morales testified his body went into auto mode and he just started shooting.
“I closed my eyes and took the longest walk of my life,” Morales testified about approaching the officer’s patrol car.
Morales testified that he feared Alvarado would shoot and kill him if he saw the loaded 9mm Taurus handgun Morales had in his car.
“If I didn’t act in that moment, that was my last chance to save myself,” Morales testified.
Morales testified earlier that he had formed an opinion of Salinas police officers after a violent confrontation with them outside his parents’ east Salinas home in 2018.
In that case, police were called to the apartment after Morales got into an argument with a neighbor. The defense played video of that encounter in which Morales was stunned by police. Morales said he was also punched in the face while handcuffed.
Morales said he started identifying police as “good cop, bad cop.” But he testified he had no way of telling the difference.
The night he was being pulled over by Alvarado, Morales testified, “I was scared and I thought it was one of the bad cops.”
But in cross-examination, prosecutor Christopher Puck told Morales that he had 11 contacts with police between the 2018 incident and the traffic stop with Alvarado in 2022 and in each case, there was not one instance of use of force.
Morales testified he knew he would get arrested if Alvarado pulled him over. Morales was on probation, driving drunk on a suspended license and had a loaded gun, all violations of his probation.
On the witness stand, the 32-year-old accused killer testified he feared Alvarado was one of the cops who allegedly beat him previously and that if Alvarado saw the gun, Alvarado would shoot him.
Morales testified he made up his mind then that he was going to shoot Alvarado.
The first shot he fired, Morales said, was from near his own car, but then he testified he “started shooting like crazy.”
“It was him or me. That’s how I saw the situation,” Morales testified.
Morales allegedly fired off 13 rounds, 12 of them struck JD Alvarado, killing him in seconds.
If convicted, Morales faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.