The San Manuel resident who was recently acquitted on charges of first-degree murder, drive-by shooting, and aggravated assault said in a post-trial interview that despite the jury verdict, he prays for forgiveness for shooting and killing 22-year-old Joshua Switalski in a traffic altercation last year in Oro Valley.
David Mota was found not guilty on all charges as well as a lesser charge of disorderly conduct following a four-day trial in which defense attorney Natasha Wrae stressed her client shot because he was in fear of his life.
After a near collision near Oracle Road and Pusch View Lane in February 2013, Switalski pulled alongside Mota’s vehicle and verbally engaged him. Mota, who said during his interrogation that Switalski was “going to do something,” fired two shots in the direction of Switalski’s vehicle. One of the bullets ricocheted and perforated Switalski’s heart and lung, killing him.
While Wrae said the case was “tragic, no doubt,” she also believes the jury got it right, pointing out the fact that Mota, during the police interrogation, said more than once he was afraid for his life – meaning he was entitled to use deadly force under Arizona’s Stand Your Ground Law.
Just as important in accepting the case was Mota’s apparent honesty throughout the investigation, Wrae said.
“When I heard the story and was following along, there was almost an instinctual reaction to survive that had to have gone off for him to react the way he did,” said Wrae.
“The part of the (interrogation) that is most poignant is when detectives tell him he’s killed someone, and he becomes visibly, physically upset. This is not the reaction of someone who thought they might have killed someone, and I think the jury looked to that and saw he didn’t mean to kill someone, but that he reacted.”
During the trial, Wrae refuted evidence that Mota shot in a forward direction by pointing out that a scene reconstruction was not performed with absolute accuracy. She also argued that there was no way to determine whether Switalski had a gun during the traffic altercation, as police never swept the desert during the investigation.
Asked if she saw any leaks in the prosecution’s case, Wrae said the prosecution would have been better served to push for premeditated murder as opposed to felony murder since in premeditated murder, the jury could have sought lesser charges, including second-degree murder, manslaughter, negligent homicide, or reckless homicide.
“I got the sense from the jury from their questions that they wanted him to have some ownership for killing someone, but that they didn’t want the whole kit and caboodle like felony murder,” Wrae said. “I felt like that was probably a bad decision on the prosecution’s part.”
At least one juror was said to have asked about lesser charges during deliberation.
Regardless of the verdict, Wrae said nobody deserved to die.
“This is a truly tragic case,” she said. “I’ve done my research. I’ve done my homework, and he (Josh) seemed like a great guy. He’s got people out there that love him. It seems like he’s done good in the community, so truly in his world it’s a loss. He didn’t deserve to die by any stretch of the imagination.”
When the jury’s verdict was read, tears filled the room – the Mota family’s those of elation, the Switalski those of frustration for what they said afterwards was a failed justice system.
Mota gathered with his family, sharing hugs and tears outside the courtroom, while the Switalski family solemnly walked the opposite direction.
But although the verdict was in his favor, Mota said he continues to relive the night that he encountered Switalski in traffic.
“Even though this is over, and I’m not in prison, it’s not over for me,” said Mota, trailing off. “I’m still going to have to live with the fact that I took someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s boyfriend, someone’s cousin.”
Mota returned to his hometown of San Manuel following the trial. He now works at an area mine after losing his previous job due to the case.
He said many people he used to consider friends no longer show their faces, and that there’s a sense that “things are different.”
Mota, who was free on $50,000 bail leading to the trial, said he spent much of that free time thinking about what transpired the night of Switalski’s death on Feb. 28, 2013.
That was particularly true during the holidays, he said.
“This last Christmas, I thought about Josh’s family a lot, and about him,” said Mota, adding, “I’ve read a lot about him and his history.”
Mota and the Switalski family have not had contact since the trial, but Mota said he has a message for them, and he hopes they’ll listen.
“I didn’t know I killed him. I didn’t want to kill him,” said Mota. “I pray that God forgives me, and that Josh would forgive me,” Mota said. “I know the family will never forgive me, but everyday I pray.”
Asked what it would mean to receive their forgiveness, Mota paused.
“Everything,” he said. “It would mean everything. But I know my apologies, me being sorry isn’t going to bring him back or take me back to that night to change something so we’re both here, and so that it’s not just me.”
While he isn’t sure exactly what his future holds, Mota said looking forward, he hopes his life continues down a different path.
“I have to make better decisions,” he said. “I have to live better.”