A martial-arts instructor accused of trying to kill a man during a drunken brawl in Japan was found guilty Thursday by a Little Rock federal jury that deliberated about 2½ hours.
Rodrigo Pinedo Gomez will be sentenced at a date not yet determined once a background investigation is completed to assist in sentencing. The 44-year-old jujitsu teacher did not testify during the three-day trial before U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr.
The New Year's Eve 2016 altercation, which pitted Gomez and his son against four Air Force servicemen, began when Gomez slapped one of the men on the back of the head for speaking rudely to him.
After a brief skirmish, the men managed to resolve their differences, even exchanging hugs. But the fight rekindled a few minutes later when Gomez's wife and 16-year-old daughter arrived, supposedly because one of men threatened them. Police broke up the fight.
The entire encounter was recorded on the restaurant's security camera, and it was replayed, in bits and pieces, repeatedly during the trial.
Gomez was charged with attempted voluntary manslaughter, assault with a dangerous weapon, resisting a federal officer, making a false statement to law enforcement and three misdemeanor counts of assault.
The blame for the fighting rested solely with Gomez who never missed an opportunity to provoke the men that night, prosecutors Frank Rangoussis and Stacy Williams said.
They said the fracas could have turned deadly for Souleyman Dia when Gomez sharply twisted the man's neck while Dia was on the ground, wrestling with Gomez's son, a jujitsu coach.
"Gruesome" was how Williams described the neck-twist move as she showed jurors a close-up from the video.
"Mr. Gomez attempted to kill ... Dia that day," she said.
The younger Gomez had immobilized Dia in a leg lock so he couldn't protect himself. The senior Gomez then stomped on Dia's head five times and pummeled him. Prosecutors said Gomez later blamed Dia for starting the fight, lying to get himself out of trouble.
Williams said that threatening statements Gomez made after his arrest proved that he had been trying to kill Dia. Gomez's lawyers disputed that he'd made any threats and objected to jurors hearing testimony about the remarks since the comments weren't made directly to Dia or his companions.
Andres Hernandez, 25, of El Paso, Texas, helped arrest Gomez. He told jurors that Gomez was a "challenge" to handcuff because he struggled so much. Gomez was eventually shackled to a gurney -- for medical treatment -- with each of his arms and legs separately cuffed to the stretcher, Hernandez testified.
He said he heard Gomez yell out to one of his daughters, "Call the [family], I want this man killed." Gomez told him directly that if he could break out of his cuffs, he'd kill the guards by snapping their necks.
The neck-snapping comment is significant, prosecutors said, because it shows Gomez's intentions when he twisted Dia's neck.
His attorneys, Molly Sullivan and Blake Byrd, described the neck twist as an attempt by Gomez to pull Dia away from his son.
They acknowledged that Gomez had behaved badly during the New Year's Eve 2016 melee but accused prosecutors of inflating his actions to charge him with felonies. Gomez, who suffered a gash over his left eye that required five stitches to close, and a perforated eardrum, was the only one of the men involved in the fight who needed emergency medical care that night.
Gomez was so drunk that he believed he was going to the rescue of his wife, son and daughter, the lawyers said. Gomez's intoxication meant that he could not be held criminally responsible for his actions during the fight and a subsequent struggle with the security forces who took him into custody.
The only way jurors could have accepted that defense is if they believed that Gomez was so inebriated that it would have been impossible for him to have acted deliberately that night.
Gomez's son, Miguel Gomez, 21, pleaded guilty to a federal assault charge last week to avoid trial in exchange for a resisting-arrest count being dropped.
The fight occurred at Cafe Mokuteki on the U.S. Air Force Base in Misawa, Japan. Gomez was tried in Little Rock because his wife, Eloise Gomez, is an Air Force major, and Jacksonville was the family's last stateside station before she was transferred to Japan. They now live in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Metro on 04/26/2019