19-year-old found not guilty in murder trial

Jury deliberated for two days; Mario Duarte’s attorneys claimed self-defense in 2020 shooting of Sabstein Diaz, 16

A jury found Mario Duarte not guilty of killing 16-year-old Sabstein Diaz in 2020.

SAN ANTONIO – A 19-year-old man was acquitted of a September 2020 murder on Monday, leaving his lawyers praising the decision and the 16-year-old victim’s family “saddened and distraught.”

Mario Duarte was charged with the murder of 16-year-old Sabstein Diaz, as was his cousin, Julian Vera, whose case has not yet gone to trial. The jury began deliberations late on Friday, but didn’t come up with a verdict and jurors were ordered to resume deliberations Monday morning.

The verdict was read shortly before noon.

In surveillance video shown during the the trial, Duarte and Vera are seen showing up to a North Side apartment complex and walking over to an SUV driven by Diaz, who the prosecution said was there to sell them drugs.

Less than a minute later, Duarte and Vera can be seen running off while the SUV reverses. As Diaz gets out and collapses in the parking lot, three passengers bail out and run off, too.

One person can be seen running back to the SUV and appears to reach inside.

Duarte’s attorneys believe the person was retrieving a gun from the vehicle, and argued the shooting was the result of self-defense.

“(Duarte) saw an individual in the vehicle with a gun. When they made a sudden movement, he feared for his life. He and his family member shot in return, and, unfortunately, a young men did die,” Karl Alexander, the lead defense attorney, told KSAT on Monday.

Alexander said the jury “followed the law” in their verdict.

“It’s a hard decision to make,” he said. “We understand that. We’re not making light the fact that young man did die. But the law is the law. The jury followed it and, we believe, came to the right verdict.”

Diaz’s family, though, criticized the jury’s decision in a statement to KSAT on Monday:

“We are saddened and distraught by this morning’s not guilty verdict on all charges in the trial of Mario Duarte for the murder of our son, Sabstein Diaz. Today’s verdict means there is no accountability for the person who murdered Sabby even though he confessed to being there and pulling the trigger. Our family remains heartbroken that justice was put in the hands of 12 random jurors and justice was not served with the verdict by someone responsible for his death. However, disappointed our family remains and this person walks free. We will continue in our fight to hold those responsible for Sabby’s death accountable and ultimately, brought to justice. We will continue to grieve for our Sabby and pray that justice for his death will still be served.”

While Duarte is no longer facing that murder charge, he still has a separate aggravated robbery charge pending.

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About the Author:

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast South Texas Crime Stories.