california local news

Jury reaches verdict for man accused of ‘jealous’ killing of Cathedral Catholic teacher

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

A jury has reached a verdict for a man on trial for the Feb. 1, 2021, death of a Cathedral Catholic High School teacher who was shot multiple times outside his North Park home as he was preparing to go to work.

Jesse Milton Alvarez, 33, has been convicted of first-degree murder with a special-circumstances allegation of lying in wait for the killing of 37-year-old Mario Fierro. Alvarez faces life in prison without the possibility of parole when sentenced on May 10.

Jurors began their deliberations Friday afternoon but a verdict was not reached by the end of the day. Deliberations resumed Monday morning and the verdict was reached in the afternoon.

During the trial, prosecutors alleged Alvarez killed Fierro after discovering Fierro got engaged to Amy Gembara, another CCHS teacher who Alvarez had dated for several years. Defense attorneys allege the shooting was committed in self-defense after Fierro attacked Alvarez.

The prosecution argued Alvarez began methodically plotting Fierro’s death after seeing a social media post announcing Fierro and Gembara’s engagement. Their defense centered on Alvarez’s fixation with Gembara, which lasted well after their 2019 break-up.

Describing Alvarez as “jealous, obsessive, and possessive,” the prosecutor said Alvarez stalked Gembara after their break-up, prompting her to change addresses and unsuccessfully seek a restraining order against him.

Gembara testified last week that Alvarez’s persistence led her to change the locks at her home, install security cameras outside her residence and eventually move entirely. She testified Alvarez was able to find her new addresses and mail her letters, tried to break into her apartment and showed up unexpectedly on one occasion while she was at Disneyland with a relative.

He also tried multiple times to apply for jobs at Cathedral Catholic High School. He was able to secure a food service job on one of those attempts, but was fired on his first day after someone recognized him from a security flyer posted on campus.

They highlighted a digital trail of evidence that suggested Alvarez spent weeks researching how to kill Fierro.

The prosecutor said after Alvarez learned about the engagement in December 2020, he began practicing shooting guns at local firing ranges, while conducting internet searches about where to shoot a person on their body to ensure they die. He also searched “how to kill your ex’s fiance,” “what does woman do with engagement ring if man dies?”, and “How to delete Google search history?”

Alvarez took the stand during the trial to defend himself. Alvarez testified those searches were not made with any serious intent of harming Fierro, but were “therapeutic” and conducted as a way to vent his emotions. He conceded, though, that he harbored “bad fantasies of wishing that [Fierro] was gone or dead or not here anymore.”

Defense attorney Kerry Armstrong argued Alvarez killed Fierro in self defense and that he went to speak to Fierro because of a picture posted on social media in which Fierro and Gembara were seen having alcoholic drinks. Alvarez testified that Gembara had issues with drinking in the past and said the picture had “a triggering effect” on him because he believed Fierro was taking advantage of Gembara’s vulnerabilities.

Alvarez testified that he was inspired by a Bible verse and spontaneously decided that morning to speak to Fierro, something he believed would help him move on from his fixation with Gembara.

Alvarez testified that he approached Fierro and introduced himself and Fierro “snapped” and attacked him.

After Fierro started punching him, Alvarez alleged he pulled out his gun and begged Fierro to stop, but Fierro tried to grab the pistol. The men grappled over the gun and fearing for his safety, Alvarez ultimately shot Fierro, he testified.

Alvarez shot Fierro six times, including two gunshots to the front of his head and two to the back of his head.

Deputy District Attorney Ramona McCarthy argued there was no truth to that assertion.

“Every bit of evidence proves the defendant went there to murder him,” McCarthy said.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.