Man accused of killing beloved instructor must stand trial

SAN DIEGO — A man accused of killing a beloved Cathedral Catholic High School teacher outside his North Park home last year was sentenced Wednesday to stand trial for murder.

Mario Fierro, a teacher at Cathedral Catholic High School, was shot and killed on February 1, 2021 outside his home in North Park. Jesse Milton Alvarez was arrested the following day on suspicion of Fierro’s murder, and will stand trial for murder, alleged use of firearms and alleged special pending circumstance. (Photo provided)

Jesse Milton Alvarez, 31, was arrested Feb. 2, 2021, at a home in Serra Mesa on suspicion of murdering Mario Fierro, 37. Fierro was found unconscious shortly after 7 a.m. the day before on a sidewalk near 4500 Kansas Street with a gunshot wound to the head. He died at the scene.

Prosecutors allege Alvarez waited for Fierro – who taught social studies at Cathedral Catholic and was the athletic director of Notre Dame Academy – then shot him as he was about to go to work.

Prior to the incident, Alvarez’s ex-girlfriend, Amy Gembara, said she was engaged to Fierro. Gembara said she tried to get a restraining order against Alvarez and feared for her life.

“(Alvarez) didn’t take no for an answer,” she said. “I broke up with him on September 1. A few days later, he wanted to meet again. I told him no again. A few days later, he tried to break into my apartment.

During Wednesday’s court proceedings, a witness said Alvarez hired his company to whitewash his gun. Another witness said Alvarez took multiple firearms safety courses in one day, which they found unusual. Later, a neighbor of Fierro testified that she saw two men fighting in the street around 7 a.m., but she said one had what looked like a white pocket thermometer.

“Because it’s COVID season, it might sound a bit silly, but I thought maybe he was checking his temperature,” she said. “The other man just looked like he was trying to run away and that’s when I heard some noises.”

According to the prosecution, these noises were gunshots and the white thermometer was Alvarez’s gun coated in white and pointed at Fierro’s head.

Alvarez is charged with murder, an allegation of the use of firearms and a special circumstance allegation of waiting, which refers to hiding and waiting for someone with the intention of killing them. to kill. The special circumstance allegation means that Alvarez could face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Defense attorney Peter Blair called for the hold allegation to be dismissed, arguing that the prosecution had failed to prove that Alvarez ambushed Fierro and that the shooting may have resulted from a mutual fight .

According to Assistant District Attorney Ramona McCarthy, surveillance footage showed Alvarez leaving the Serra Mesa residence around 6 a.m. and was in the Fierro neighborhood shortly after. Coupled with the defendant’s Internet activity, the prosecutor said the evidence showed Alvarez spent “a great deal of time meticulously researching and educating himself on how to kill Mr. Fierro.”

She also alleged that Alvarez specifically chose the Feb. 1 date knowing that Fierro would be heading to work that morning because that was the day Cathedral Catholic High School resumed in-person classes, which had were previously suspended for pandemic-related reasons.

At a vigil held last year in Fierro’s honor, those in attendance said he was “Mr. Popular” and would be impossible to replace.

“No other coach has lived and breathed every move on the court, every success,” said teacher Katie Wilson. “Watching him on the sidelines was worth watching any game – that’s why I would go watch him.”

Students say Fierro believed deeply in faith, poured his heart into teaching history and coaching football at the same school he attended in the 2000s.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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