Mexican actor Pablo Lyle takes the stand, but judge refuses to dismiss road-rage death case

Pablo Lyle earned his fame starring in Mexican telenovelas, but took to a different type of stage Thursday, testifying that he had no choice but to deliver the punch that ultimately killed a man during a road-rage confrontation in Miami.

“I saw this man attacking our car with my kids in it. I was actually trying to stop my kids from being killed or injured,” Lyle, 32, told a judge on Thursday afternoon. “He could have gotten a gun, or could have used his car as a weapon.”

But the actor didn’t sway Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Alan Fine.

After more than six hours of testimony, the judge on Thursday refused to dismiss a manslaughter charge against Lyle under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law.

Fine said that the man who died, 63-year-old Juan Ricardo Hernandez, was walking back to his own car after initially pounding on the Lyle family’s car at an intersection. “He was walking away. There was no verbal threat. There was no physical actions,” Fine said Thursday night.

The ruling means that a jury will ultimately decide whether Lyle acted in self-defense when he punched Hernandez on March 31, causing the man to hit his head on the ground. Four days later, Hernandez died of a traumatic brain injury.

“”We look forward to getting this case in front a jury,” defense lawyer Bruce Lehr said after the hearing.

Lyle was the star of the Mexican telenovela “Mi Adorable Maldición,” or “My Adorable Curse,” and acts in movies. His legal case has drawn widespread coverage in Spanish-language media, particularly in Mexico, where he was an up-and-coming actor. He also stars in a newly released Netflix drama called “Yankee.”

Under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, judges have wide legal leeway to grant “immunity” to someone they deem was acting in self-defense. Prosecutors have long complained that jurors, not judges, should be the ones to decide whether a defendant acted lawfully in using violence against someone else.

The controversial law, passed by Florida lawmakers in 2005, also eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat before using deadly force. Critics say the law, pushed by the politically powerful National Rifle Association, has led to increased vigilantism and gives criminals an easy path to beat justice.

Lyle has been free from jail on home confinement since his arrest by Miami police.

Miami-Dade prosecutor Rachel Morales-Gellis argued that Lyle’s run-and-punch was not justified and the victim was not armed, was no threat, and had already returned to his car calmly.

“The defendant could have stayed in that vehicle,” Morales-Gellis said.

On March 31, Lyle’s brother-in-law was driving the actor and his family to the airport, after a 10-day vacation in Miami. The brother-in-law, Lucas Delfino, an architect who lives in Miami, cut off Hernandez in traffic after mistakenly getting off on the wrong exit. Widely circulated surveillance video shows that Hernandez got out and angrily banged on the driver’s window of the maroon SUV.

Delfino recalled that Hernandez was yelling at him, calling him an idiot. Inside the SUV, the children began to cry and yell.

“His reaction was totally out of proportion for what happened,” Delfino recalled on the stand Thursday.

Delfino got out of the stopped SUV and the two began yelling at each other. The car was not in park and started rolling into the intersection. Delfino ran back to the car to put it in park. In that moment, as Hernandez walked back toward his own car, Lyle got out of the passenger seat and ran toward the man.

Jessica Rocha, a criminology student who was in a car at the intersection, said she saw Lyle running with “aggression” and clenched fists. She said Lyle delivered the punch, but not before Hernandez raised his hands as though “blocking” and cried in Spanish: “No! Please, don’t hit me.”

Her testimony took a dramatic turn when Philip Reizenstein, one of his defense lawyers, questioned her impartiality: “You have something against Pablo Lyle?”

Rocha paused. “I’m angry for what he did. Definitely,” she said. “You don’t just leave a person lying on the floor dying. You wouldn’t even do that to an animal, would you?”

Reizenstein shot back: “You don’t ask the questions. I ask you questions.”

When Lyle took the stand, he said he got out of the car only to try and stop — with his hands and feet — the SUV from rolling into the intersection. When he saw Delfino hop in the driver’s seat, he turned and ran at Hernandez.

“He’s a threat to me. My family, everybody,” Lyle said, his voice sometimes cracking throughout his testimony. “He lifts his hands up and I reacted. I punched him.”

Hernandez crumpled to the ground, mortally injured.

When Lyle jumped back in the SUV, he yelled at Delfino to drive off. Why? He claimed he believed Hernandez might get up and continue the attack. He also claimed he was scared of a man who was running toward him from a nearby gas station — it was actually an witness trying to get the tag number of Delfino’s SUV.

Delfino dropped the family off at the airport. Lyle put his family on a flight, but stayed behind to talk to police officers who had already identified him as a suspect.

“I wanted my family out of there,” Lyle testified.

Miami Herald Staff Writer C. Isaiah Smalls II contributed to this story.