Defense: Federal Hill murder was result of self-defense

Federal Hill murder victim Daniel Lastarza

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As the state’s prosecutors began to weave the story that led to the beating death of a Glocester businessman outside a Federal Hill bar, the defense team suggested that the alleged murder was actually self-defense.

Arguments in the trial of Daniel Lastarza began Tuesday afternoon. He is charged with murdering Jonathan Stack in July of 2014, and also assaulting another man named Jerri Nassi, both with a two-by-four.

Special Asst. Attorney General John Perrotta began his opening statement by reading text messages he said were sent from Lastarza.

“Okay I put Jonny in a coma…do not call me back,” Attorney Perrotta read. “Scambag Jonny Stacks [sic] is dead.”

Perrotta said the fight that led to Stack’s death started as an argument over a junk car. Stack owned a North Providence auto salvage business, and had sent his employee — Jerri Nassi — to buy a car from a customer for $400. The sale, Perrotta said, was phony; police were called and a woman was subsequently arrested for obtaining money under false pretenses. Lastarza and another man, Christopher Tucker, were apparently involved.

When Stack and Nassi were later driving down Atwells Avenue, they spotted Tucker entering the $3 bar, Perrotta told the jury. They parked their truck, went inside, and started an argument with Tucker. At one point, Stack called 911. The fight moved outside, where Perrotta said Tucker threw Stack to the ground, while Nassi tried to stop him. Then, Perrotta said, Daniel Lastarza emerged from the woods with a two-by-four board and hit both men: Nassi once, then Stack twice.

The whole altercation was captured on video.

“The defendant takes the board, raises it over his head, and hits Jonathan Stack in the head,” Perrotta said the video shows. He plans to show the video to the jury during the course of the trial.

The jury will also take a field trip to the location of the $3 bar, which was shut down by the city in the wake of the alleged murder. Police said staff failed to intervene or call 911 when the fight erupted.

Nassi took the stand as the prosecution’s first witness, describing the fight and admitting that he hit Tucker multiple times while trying to get him off of Stack. Then, Nassi testified, he felt the board smack him across the back. He took off, seeing white, and then testified that he heard the sounds of his friend’s alleged murder.

“I heard the board, or whatever it was, I heard it like the crack of a baseball bat,” Nassi recalled. “And I heard the board hit the ground.”

The defense attorney, Christopher Smith, did not dispute that Lastarza hit both men, conceding that the fight is captured on video. But Smith said the jury would later in the trial be instructed in the law of self-defense and the defense of others.

“We’re going to ask you to find Daniel Lastarza not guilty of the murder Jonathan Stack, and not guilty of assault with a deadly weapon on Jerri Nassi,” Smith told the jury. He said he would call multiple witnesses to the stand including a man who worked as a valet and a former employee of the $3 bar.

Jon Stack’s mother, Diane Stack, told Eyewitness News on Tuesday she’s choosing not to attend the trial.

“It can’t bring my son back,” she said. “I’ll never be the same and my pain will never be over.” She described her son as generous and an animal lover.

“My love for my son was beyond belief. Beyond belief. And, I just choose to stay here, because of all the therapy I received. I don’t want it to be diminished,” said Stack, who said it would be too hard to hear the details of the case again. “I’d go insane. I’d go crazy. I still don’t even believe that he’s gone.”

Nassi is expected to continue testifying on Wednesday.