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Alabama/The Mobile News

Man says Wilmer shooting was self-defense

Bar co-owner testifies Mexican national was accosted by Mobile County men


Staff Reporter

Mexican national Miguel Samaniego-Lopez, speaking through a translator, told jurors Tuesday at his murder trial that he shot three men in the parking lot of the Country Club Lounge in Wilmer because he believed they were about to shoot him.

Two of those men -- Daniel Phillip Pettus, 30, and Christopher Neal, 29 -- were killed during the Sept. 30, 2000, incident. Each was hit once with a .38-caliber slug fired from Samaniego-Lopez's gun.

A third man, Craig Christian, 42, Neal's brother, was hit in the shoulder but survived.

Christian was in Mobile Coun ty Circuit Judge James Wood's courtroom late Tuesday when Samaniego-Lopez held the pistol used that night, pointed it toward jurors and pulled the trigger several times.

The otherwise quiet courtroom was filled with the sharp, staccato click of the revolver's hammer hitting the firing pin.

As that happened, Christian and other family members gasped and hurried out of the courtroom.

With the translator passing on Samaniego-Lopez's testimony to jurors in English, the defendant said that earlier in the evening he saw another Mexican whom he did not know come into the Moffett Road bar, covered with blood.

A co-owner of the bar, Lisa Perry, testified Tuesday that in that earlier incident, she rushed to the parking lot and saw men standing over the bleeding man, kicking him in the face.

"I could see blood all over. I yelled at them, I was screaming," Perry said.

She said Samaniego-Lopez stood by the bar watching as she brought the beaten man in and stanched his bleeding face with bar towels.

Perry and the defendant also testified that shortly afterward, a half-dozen other Mobile County men, including Christian and Neal, accosted Samaniego-Lopez as he stood at the bar, threatening him and ordering him out of the bar because they believed he had asked "a white woman" to dance.

"Different ones were pulling on him," Perry testified of the second incident. "I tried to talk to them, they wouldn't listen to me."

The men finally left Samaniego-Lopez alone, Perry said, when she explained to them that it was someone else who had asked the woman to dance, not Samaniego-Lopez.

The defendant said that when he left the bar to go home, the men followed him out, shoving him as he went. He said he drew his gun only after he believed others were drawing their weapons. Samaniego-Lopez admitted firing first.

Christian testified he saw no one with weapons other than the defendant.

An investigator testified that several spent shell casings from a .25-caliber semiautomatic were later found in the parking lot, apparently fired from some other gun.

Bar patron Mark Brech testified Monday that Samaniego-Lopez was not the only one he saw shooting that night.

Through the translator, Samaniego-Lopez told jurors Tuesday he believed he "had no alternative" but to open fire. He later admitted fleeing the scene of the shooting and testified he never attempted to contact police.

Closing arguments were to begin today at 9 a.m. in Wood's sixth-floor courtroom in Government Plaza.

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