A Uniondale man was defending himself when he fatally stabbed an acquaintance during an argument, a Nassau County judge said Tuesday as he acquitted the man of second-degree murder.
Judge George Peck, in a nonjury trial in Nassau County Court in Mineola, also acquitted Hector Ascencio, 33, of criminal possession of a weapon in connection with the April death of Moises Lopez, 27.
He convicted Ascencio of tampering with evidence, a charge that stemmed from Ascencio hiding Lopez's body in a van.
Ascencio, a stucco installer and handyman, faces a maximum sentence of 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 4.
"He was absolutely thrilled," Ascencio's attorney, Paul Delle of Hempstead, said after Peck's decision. "He thanked the judge. He saw that he was getting a fair trial."
Assistant District Attorney Martin Meaney said he was disappointed with the verdict. He said Ascencio lied to police about the stabbing.
"I don't believe that his actions were without criminal culpability," Meaney said. "His conduct should have been criminally liable."
Ascencio and Lopez were drinking and watching a soccer game on TV in the Uniondale apartment that Ascencio shared with a cousin of Lopez when they began arguing, Peck said in his decision.
Lopez "was the initial aggressor and came upon the defendant with a knife in [his] hand," Peck said.
Lopez "had a general reputation in the community of having a belligerent nature, especially when he was drinking," Peck said, adding that an autopsy showed Lopez had the equivalent of 14 drinks in his system when he died.
Lopez's body was found at about 2:25 p.m. on April 2 in a van near the Nassau Road apartment. Police at the time said that Lopez had been stabbed in the chest.
Ascencio and another person moved Lopez's body from the apartment to Ascencio's van, Delle said.
"It was a panic and they didn't know what to do," he said.
Ascencio will remain in jail until his sentencing, Delle said.