The general facts are indisputable: Juan Ricardo Hernández, upset that an SUV cut him off in traffic, got out of his car at a Miami intersection. While both vehicles were stopped at a traffic light, Hernandez approached the SUV, whose passenger is Mexican soap opera actor Pablo Lyle.
Moments later, Lyle punched him, leaving Hernandez sprawled on the ground, his skull fractured from hitting the pavement. He never regained consciousness.
Everything that happened in that period, Miami jurors heard Friday, will depend on their interpretation. They will have to decide if Lyle, the 35-year-old actor who was in Miami on vacation, was justified in his actions.
Prosecutors say Hernandez simply banged on the window to “express his displeasure,” then returned to his own car after the driver of the SUV got out to argue. Lyle, the passenger, angrily charged at Hernandez, who “turns around and puts his hands up,” prosecutor Shawn Abuhoff told jurors.
“This defendant makes another choice, the evidence will show, that he’s going to do harm,” Abuhoff said during opening statements at Lyle’s highly anticipated manslaughter trial. “He is going to punch Mr. Hernandez in the face because he blames Mr. Hernandez for this situation. He uses deadly force.”
But Lyle’s defense branded Hernández irrational and deranged, “hitting” the window and cursing, and “apparently” trying to get into the SUV. Attorney Bruce Lehr told jurors that Lyle was terrified, not knowing if Hernandez was going to get back in his car to escalate the violence.
“Mr. Lyle instinctively, without any intention or thought, hit him once,” Lehr told jurors. “He hit it with his weak hand. He hit him once and the man went down.”
A long-awaited trial
The attorneys made their initial statement to juries more than three years after Lyle was first arrested for throwing the punch that ultimately killed Hernandez, a case that has been scrutinized by media outlets across the United States and Latin America. .
The confrontation on a road near Miami International Airport was also captured on surveillance video from a nearby gas station, images that have been shown repeatedly on social media and on US and Mexican news networks.
The tragedy might have gone unnoticed were it not for the fame of Lyle, who had been rising as an actor in Mexico, landing leading roles in several telenovelas on the Mexican network Televisa. He had also landed another leading role in “Yankee,” a crime drama that premiered on Netflix shortly after his arrest.
But the confrontation resulting from road rage turned his career upside down, claiming the life of Hernandez, who worked loading trays of food onto airplane carts at Miami International Airport and was due to get married the next day.
Jurors will have to determine whether Lyle was justified or acted in self-defense in attacking Hernandez that fateful day.
For prosecutors, the challenge is complicated by Florida’s controversial personal defense law, which in 2005 eliminated a “citizen’s duty to retreat” before using force to counter a threat. (The law also made it easier for judges to dismiss cases they consider acts of self-defense; Lyle lost his bid for immunity in 2019.)
The incident occurred on the night of March 31, 2019, when Lyle’s brother-in-law was taking the actor and his family to the airport for their flight back to Mexico. Her brother-in-law, Lucas Delfino, an architect who lives in Miami, cut Hernandez off in traffic after mistakenly getting off at the NW 27 exit.
Abuhoff, the prosecutor, told jurors that Hernandez had to slam on the brakes to avoid being hit. At the intersection, Hernandez got out, banged on the window and asked him if he was “crazy” and “stupid” for cutting him off.
The state played the video for jurors.
“He doesn’t walk up to the door and try to yank it open. He doesn’t come over and try to break the window,” Abuhoff said. “He doesn’t say, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ He doesn’t have any weapons in his hands.”
Delfino got out and started arguing with Hernandez, who put his hands up to make sure he wasn’t hit, the prosecutor said. It was at that moment when the SUV began to roll towards the intersection, Delfino had forgotten to put the car in park.
When Delfino realized that the SUV was rolling, he hurried back to the driver’s seat. At that moment, Lyle, who is 6 feet tall, got out and ran towards Hernandez, much smaller and older than him, and who had already turned back towards his own car.
“He immediately hits Mr. Hernandez and as a result, Mr. Hernandez hits his head on the concrete and loses consciousness,” Abuhoff said.
Lyle and Delfino got back into the SUV and fled. Police later caught up with Lyle at Miami International Airport. He was initially charged with assault, a charge that was elevated to manslaughter after Hernandez died days later at the hospital.
The version of events offered by the defense presented Hernández as the aggressor.
The three young children inside the SUV became “hysterical” when Hernandez started banging on the window, Lehr told jurors. He claimed that Hernandez “hit” Delfino as he got out of the SUV.
“The evidence clearly shows that violence is on the rise,” Lehr said.
And the only reason Lyle got out of the SUV was to try and stop the vehicle from rolling into the intersection, endangering the family in the car. “A reasonable person would be afraid of why Mr. Hernandez was getting back into his vehicle,” Lehr said. “Pablo Lyle runs towards him yelling, with some obscenity, that there are children in the car.
The trial is expected to last about five days before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez. Lyle faces up to 15 years in prison if he is convicted.