A jury on Friday found a 36-year-old homeless man not guilty in the beating death of a Good Samaritan after a confrontation at a Hollywood McDonald’s restaurant.
Authorities said Jeremy Harris was yelling and cursing at a 3-year-old boy in the restaurant on June 18, 2014, when Gabriel Ortega Jr., 57, stepped between the two and told Harris to stop.
Harris then punched Ortega in the head. He fled before police arrived, according to court testimony. After filing a battery report, Ortega refused medical treatment. But days later, as symptoms worsened, a friend took him to the hospital. He fell into a coma and died July 14.
The county coroner ruled the death a homicide.
Harris was arrested July 31 and charged with one count of voluntary manslaughter.
Guillermo Arevalo-Farias, Harris’ public defender, said during the trial that Harris was not the man who attacked Ortega.
"There’s no dispute that whoever did this is a bad guy," he said during closing arguments. "That’s not in dispute. The dispute is whether or not they got it right."
He also brought attention to a tumor that was identified during Ortega’s autopsy that had started in his liver and metastasized to his brain.
In closing arguments Friday, Deputy Dist. Atty. Tricia Taylor said it’s easy to confuse some of the details of what he looked like in the heat of the moment. Taylor said that Ortega may have had a tumor, but the length of his life was shortened because of the beating. Both the mother and the grandmother of the child identified Harris in a photo lineup but expressed uncertainty about some physical features.
For the Record
7:35 p.m.: An earlier version of this article said the child's mother and mother-in-law identified the defendant. It should have said mother and grandmother.
In the courtroom, Taylor wrote on an easel pad, "Do not get involved," and "Stay out of it."
“How many times have you heard that advice?” she asked the jury. Ortega "stepped up when no one else would."
After the verdict, Arevalo-Farias said he was satisfied with the outcome of the case.
“As the ID expert said, misidentification is the source of a lot of wrongful convictions,” he said. “I’m just glad that the outcome in this case wasn’t a wrongful conviction based on misidentification.”
The judge in the case did not allow the jury to consider a lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter. The trial began March 30 at the L.A. County courthouse in Alhambra.
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