LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - A jury Wednesday found Jose Salazar not guilty for the 2015 death of Carlos Contreras.
Dona Ana County Sheriff's Deputies arrested Salazar in June 2015, three days after they began investigating the death of 20-year-old Carlos Contreras.
Deputies say Salazar stabbed Contreras after an argument at a house party being held at an East Mesa home on the 7500 block of El Centro.
During closing arguments, the prosecution told jurors Contreras was drunk the night he was killed. They said Contreras approached Salazar and asked for the whereabouts of Contrera's brother.
Prosecutors allege Salazar took Contreras as a threat and began antagonizing him. They said Salazar displayed knife and said "I'll slit your throat." Salazar allegedly stabbed the 20-year-old in the chest and ran away, prosecutors said.
Contreras died at a hospital.
The defense described Contreras as an "angry man" who wanted to fight. They said Contreras broke free from his friend's grasp, and charged at Salazar. They also questioned the credibility of a witness who took the stand, saying he did not see Salazar stab Contreras and could not fully identify Salazar in a lineup.
ABC-7 spoke with several of Contreras' relatives before the jury began deliberations.
"We were so happy and we look back at it and we smile and then our hearts immediately break," Contreras' step-father Antonio Sandoval said.
"It was a senseless cowardly act of violence towards my son" Corinne Sandoval, Contreras' mother, said.
After the verdict was read, Contreras' family left the courtroom in tears.
Salazar was put in handcuffs and escorted out of the courtroom. He's currently serving an 18 month sentence for an alleged drive by shooting.
ABC-7 was unable to reach Salazar's defense attorney for comment after the verdict.