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Alleged cop killer could face death penalty

Accused of fatally shooting East Palo Alto Police Officer Richard May, Alberto Alvarez could face the death penalty

As the attorneys and judge ironed out the course of his case Friday morning, Alberto Alvarez, the 23-year-old man accused of killing East Palo Alto Police Officer Richard May in January, glanced down at his handcuffed hands and fidgeted, speaking only when San Mateo County Judge Craig L. Parsons asked if he will continue to waive his right to a speedy trial.

"Yes sir," he said. A hefty man, Alvarez sported a thin mustache, his dark hair neatly trimmed.

Alvarez, a resident of East Palo Alto, is accused of shooting May on Saturday, Jan. 7, around 4:30 p.m. near University Avenue and Weeks Street. May had been chasing a man, believed to be Alvarez, involved in a fight in a nearby restaurant. The man allegedly turned around and shot May and then returned to shoot him again, according to Lt. Rod Norris.

The scene was witnessed by a 16-year-old police Explorer Scout, who had been riding along with May.

Following a massive hunt by 250 officers that locked down part of the community, Alvarez, with a gunshot wound in his leg, was found hiding in the backseat of a car attempting to leave the area.

A grand jury indicted Alvarez Aug. 25. Alvarez then pleaded innocent to charges of murder and gun possession and denied the allegation of killing a police officer in the line of duty.

If convicted, he could face life in prison or the death penalty.

On Friday, Parsons said he hadn't had a chance to catch up with the reams of paperwork related to the case.

Alvarez's defense attorneys have argued the prosecution did not present enough evidence during the grand jury proceedings. If their motion is granted, a new grand jury or preliminary hearing could be initiated, according to Eric Liberman, one of Alvarez's attorneys.

Parsons deferred that decision until Feb. 23 at 9 a.m.

In addition, an attorney representing the San Jose Mercury News argued to make the grand jury transcripts public. Parsons did not rule on that motion, which is opposed by the defense. The prosecution is neutral on the issue, San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

Parsons also said he is going to try to have one judge assigned to the case who will remain throughout the trial.

Wagstaffe said he hasn't decided whether to pursue the death penalty yet, although it remains an option. He expects the decision will be made by late February.

The decision will involve a "lengthy discussion" with the department's homicide team and other advisors and a review of Alvarez's background, Wagstaffe said.

Although San Mateo County had a fair number of death penalty cases in the 1980s and 1990s, there hasn't been a death-penalty conviction prosecuted by the county since 1998, Wagstaffe said.

Alvarez is a member of the Sacramento Street gang, Norris has said. Alvarez had previously been to prison for drugs and weapons charges.

Supporters of May were in court Friday carrying a clipboard with photos of the officer. May had a wife and three daughters.

Alvarez remains in jail.

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