MODESTO -- A defendant on Wednesday afternoon testified in a trial about how he and several other Norteño gang members planned a 2010 home-invasion robbery that led to the shooting death of a 32-year-old man. He said the goal was to steal drugs from the home in Modesto's airport neighborhood.
Aquiles Virgen, 23, told the jury he was called to provide his help in carrying out the armed robbery at the home in the 600 block of Thrasher Avenue, between Oregon Drive and Larkin Avenue.
"They needed assistance to commit a robbery," Virgen testified. "I just went there to help. It gives you status (within the gang)."
After the robbery, authorities found Julio Jimenez in the home's back yard with multiple gunshot wounds. He died at a local hospital.
Virgen; Hector Rocha Jr., 23; Jaime Cerpa, 31; Phillip Lopez, 19; and Angel Del Villar, 21, have been charged with murder and home-invasion robbery in connection with Jimenez's death. The trial is under way in Stanislaus County Superior Court, but Virgen now is being prosecuted separately.
He is testifying for the prosecution against his co-defendants. It's unclear what type of plea deal the district attorney's office has offered in exchange for Virgen's testimony.
He told the jury he has been a Norteño gang member since he was 14. Virgen was "putting in work," which meant he would carry out orders from gang leaders attacking rival gang members and committing other crimes.
"Anything that will benefit them (the gang)," Virgen testified.
That's what he was doing when he agreed to meet a group of about eight to 10 fellow gang members in the late hours of March 23, 2010, at a house in Keyes.
There, Virgen said, they devised the plan to rob the Thrasher Avenue home. The robbery took place about 12:30 a.m. on March 24, 2010.
He said the robbery's intent was to steal drugs from the airport neighborhood home and bring them back to the Keyes house. Virgen told the jury the drugs would then be sold to benefit the Norteño gang.
Some of the drug sale profits would go to those who committed the robbery. Virgen said some of the money would help buy items from jail and prison commissaries for incarcerated gang members. The money also would be used to help gang members bail out of jail.
Someone delivered guns to the Keyes house to use in the robbery. Virgen told the jury the guns were laid out on a table for them to choose. He grabbed a revolver that looked like a .357 -caliber Magnum.
"There were bullets on the table, so I picked them up and loaded up the gun," Virgen testified.
He said they rode in a Jeep to the airport neighborhood, stopping for gas along the way. A red car that would be used to get away from the crime scene followed them to Thrasher Avenue.
Virgen's testimony will continue today, when defense attorneys will have an opportunity to cross-examine him. The trial is expected to continue for another few weeks.
Security has been heightened for the trial. Several sheriff's deputies have been posted inside and outside the courtroom, and the courtroom audience is searched before entering.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.