After two days of sex-filled testimony about a foursome in Cottage Grove that ended with a fight among the two males, a Dane County jury Wednesday night found Daniel Dinga not guilty of second-degree reckless endangerment and substantial battery for injuries he inflected on Cesar Salinas.
Jurors deliberated for about four hours after hearing closing arguments in the case, and decided they did not have enough evidence to convict Dinga -- who had argued he was acting in self defense -- of either of the charges against him. Salinas, 23, of Cottage Grove (not to be confused with Edgewood High School coach Cesar Salinas), suffered serious cuts to his head, apparently from a knife used during the final fight between the two men, and Dinga had several scrapes and a cut to his side.
Both Assistant District Attorney Lana Mades and defense attorney Brian Brophy told jurors at the outset of the trial that they would try to limit the testimony of the sexual activities of that night, but the sexual foursome was a large part of the trial anyway.
The two couples, Dinga and his girlfriend, Brenda Beyer, and Salinas and his girlfriend, Matilde Nevarez-Nevarez, met at the Outpost bar in Cottage Grove on the night of Aug. 16, 2008. One of the few things the four agreed upon in their testimony to the jury was that neither couple had met the other before, and both couples resided in Cottage Grove.
The couples became friendly and at bar time they adjourned to the Dinga home to continue having drinks, although exactly how that happened was even a point of contention at the trial.
In any case, the four went to the home shared by Dinga and Beyer and in short order, testimony showed, Beyer and Nevarez-Nevarez were engaging in sexual activity in the kitchen while Salinas was present. When Dinga returned, Salinas asked where the bedroom was and, according to everyone's testimony, they all went to the bedroom and got undressed.
Everyone also agreed that after a few preliminary proceedings that Salinas began having intercourse with Beyer, while Dinga began having intercourse with Nevarez-Nevarez.
At some point Salinas became upset and attacked Dinga, everyone agreed, but there were vast differences as to how that, the first of three tussles between the men, started.
Salinas testified that he heard Nevarez-Nevarez call his name and saw that she was trying to end her tryst with Dinga. When Dinga continued, he rushed him, Salinas said.
Dinga testified that Nevarez-Nevarez appeared to enjoy the sex and said "after a moment or two she started moaning a bit," making "soft, pleasurable sounding noise." It was the defense theory, as stated by Brophy, that when Salinas heard pleasurable sounds coming from his girlfriend, he decided to end the swap meet and attacked Dinga.
In any case the tussle broke up, but according to Dinga and Beyer, Salinas attacked Dinga again. Neither man was seriously injured in the bedroom jousting, but a final confrontation occurred in the garage and that led to serious injuries. Again, there were vast differences in how that final fight started.
Nevarez-Nevarez said as she was standing outside the garage she could see that Dinga had knife, and that he rushed at Salinas and Salinas was then losing a lot of blood. Salinas gave a similar account. He and Nevarez-Nevarez ran from the garage when the fight ended, and pictures of the aftermath showed a large pool of blood present in the garage.
Dinga gave another account altogether. He said went to the garage to have a smoke and was carrying an unlit cigarette in one hand and a blue cup of water in the other. Salinas, Dinga said, came into the garage and rushed at him. "I noticed there was something in his hand but I don't know what," he said.
The two struggled and Dinga said he felt something against his side, reached down and grabbed Salinas' hand, and saw he had a knife. He said he managed to wrestle it away from Salinas, then used it to cut Salinas in the head.
"The guy just attacked me for the third time," Dinga said in justifying his use of force in self defense, "I though he was trying to kill me."
Mades argued that Dinga's story was made up and in her closing argument repeatedly pointed to testimony that Dinga, when first questioned by police officers and detectives, was adamant that no weapon was present in any of the fights. That, she said, showed he was now lying in his self defense argument.
Brophy emphasized that it was Dinga who insisted that Beyer call 911, and the tapes from the 911 center showed she did. Brophy said had Dinga gone after Salinas with the knife, he never would have been the one to insist that police be called.
Among those who heard the testimony was a minister from Verona, who was on the jury panel but excused as an alternate juror and did not participate in the deliberations. He said he found the incident disturbing, but, in answers during voire dire of prospective jurors, said he could follow the law in making a decision on the case. While the others began deliberations, the pastor met with Dinga and offered him help, regardless of the outcome of the case.