A man who stabbed two men outside of Cava 22 one year ago was released from jail last week, after video evidence presented at his trial showed that he was likely acting in defense of a friend.
“Things aren’t always what they seem at first glance,” said public defender Ilona Solomon in an interview with Mission Local. She said her client, Nelson Hernandez-Deleon, 32, was defending his friend and likely saved that man’s life on Sept. 18, 2021.
In doing so, Omar Cureno Rayon, 34, ended up dead following that mariachi night at the 22nd and Bartlett street bar and club, in an attack that Rayon’s friends originally claimed was unprovoked.
Hernandez-Deleon — who stabbing witnesses recalled as wearing an ankle monitor — was arrested on Sept. 24, 2021, for a probation violation. Police investigators at the time reported that they tied him to the stabbing a few days later.
A jury did not convict Hernandez-Deleon, and the District Attorney’s office dismissed all charges on Sept. 28, 2022. His ultimate release from jail came one year after his arrest for murder and assault with a deadly weapon.
Cureno, the man who was killed, was already “livid” and “publicly humiliated” from a physical assault by his girlfriend, also caught on video, when he got into a fight with Hernandez-Deleon and his friend, said Solomon.
“She is at least morally responsible for his death,” Solomon said, of Cureno’s girlfriend.
Video footage shows that, shortly before the stabbing, Cureno’s girlfriend, Viridiana Robledo, was violently assaulting him for several minutes as their other friends attempted to break up the domestic abuse. Eventually, one friend was able to take Robledo away and, minutes later, the dispute began between Cureno’s group and Hernandez-Deleon’s.
“Omar becomes convinced that he’s being made fun of,” said Solomon. This was a sentiment that Robledo had shared with Mission Local shortly after her boyfriend’s death.
The two groups approached each other and a fight broke out, surveillance video revealed. But even before things got physical, Solomon pointed to a moment when Cureno appeared to put on brass knuckles. They were found later next to his body at the scene.
Solomon said that her client, meanwhile, had a dislocated shoulder and did not want to fight. He didn’t pull out his knife until later, after Cureno appeared to hit him three times in the head with the brass knuckles.
Hernandez-Deleon was acquitted on first-degree murder charges, and a jury hung 10-2 to acquit him of second-degree murder charges. Several jurors did lean toward convicting Hernandez-Deleon of assault with a deadly weapon, and hung 8-4 toward convicting him on that charge.
A mistrial was declared in mid-June, and the DA’s office dismissed all charges before a second trial. Mission Local has contacted the prosecutor on this case, and this story may be updated if they respond.
After Hernandez-Deleon was hit, the video then shows Cureno and his friend Jorge Ruiz Monroy fighting two-on-one against Hernandez-Deleon’s friend, Carlos Guzman. Though Hernandez-Deleon had left the scene and was walking across Bartlett Street, toward his car, the video shows him returning, apparently stabbing Cureno, and leaving again.
This blow doesn’t appear to have an impact on Cureno, who continues fighting Guzman. Photos of the scene and of Guzman after the altercation show strands of his hair strewn about the sidewalk, and his face bloodied.
Meanwhile, the security guard from Cava 22 can be seen in camera footage standing by, but not getting involved in the brawl. Solomon said she subpoenaed the security guard to testify at trial, but he did not appear.
Hernandez-Deleon appears to second-guess fleeing and returns to where his friend is still fighting the two men. At this point, Hernandez-Deleon swings his knife again, hitting both Cureno and Ruiz, before fleeing in his car.
“At that time, my client is just swinging wildly to get them off of his friend,” Solomon said. She said that she was shocked the DA’s office tried to argue for first-degree murder charges.
Even then, despite his serious injuries, Cureno continues to attack: Moments before collapsing to the ground, he removes his belt and attempts to wrap it around Guzman’s neck.
Though his original deadline for a speedy trial was in January, Hernandez-Deleon’s trial did not begin until May. And, after his mistrial in June, the public defender’s office said his new deadline for a retrial on Aug. 15 was also missed.
Before the trial, the DA’s office offered Hernandez-Deleon a plea deal for voluntary manslaughter and a seven-year sentence, which he turned down. After the trial, prosecutors offered him another deal to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter, and serve a two-year sentence.
He again declined, with his defense maintaining that he was “not guilty of any crime.”
Hernandez-Deleon was released on Sept. 28. He had been incarcerated for just over a year.