MODESTO -- The plan was to steal drugs from a home in Modesto's airport neighborhood. A group of Norteño gang members would go into the house armed with guns, but just to scare the residents into complying.
Aquiles Virgen, one of the robbers, testified Thursday in a trial that nobody was supposed to be shot. Something went horribly wrong.
Julio Jimenez was shot multiple times. Authorities found the 32-year-old man in the back yard of the home in the 600 block of Thrasher Avenue. He died later at a local hospital.
"Everything didn't go as planned," Virgen told the jury Thursday about the botched home-invasion robbery March 24, 2010.
The robbers never found the drugs they were looking for. Instead, they encountered residents who had just started renting the home two weeks before the robbery. A second victim was pistol-whipped and robbed, but survived.
The Stanislaus County district attorney's office has offered a plea deal to Virgen in exchange for his testimony against his alleged accomplices: Hector Rocha Jr., 23; Jaime Cerpa, 31; Phillip Lopez, 19; and Angel Del Villar, 21.
Rocha, Cerpa, Lopez and Del Villar are on trial accused of murder, home-invasion robbery and robbery in connection with Jimenez's death.
Virgen is being prosecuted separately and will plead to home-invasion robbery for the benefit of a criminal street gang and be sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
He sat on the witness stand Thursday during cross-examination wearing a red and white striped jail inmate jumpsuit. The microphone in front of him picked up sounds of his shackles as he shifted in his seat.
Virgen testified that the group planned the robbery a few hours before at a home in Keyes.
"There was a picture drawn with a diagram of the house," he said.
They planned who would go in through the front of the house and who would go in through the back. Virgen was assigned to take the front entrance and secure that spot.
But when the robbers arrived, Virgen testified that they found people inside a parked Chevrolet Tahoe in front of the home. He said they escorted two men and a woman at gunpoint into the back yard, where they ordered them to the ground.
The woman became frantic and started telling the robbers not to hurt them. Virgen testified that he walked over and pointed a gun at her.
"I was telling her to stay quiet," Virgen told the jury. "Nobody would be hurt. Everything would be all right."
He said two other robbers were inside the house. One was in the front and three, including Virgen, were in the back yard.
"I didn't believe they were a threat," Virgen said of the victims held at gunpoint. "They were complying as far as I knew."
Virgen testified that he heard some commotion and then a gunshot coming from inside the house. That's when the situation turned chaotic, he said, and they started running toward the getaway vehicle.
As Virgen was running away, he told the jury he heard two more shots from the back yard.
After a police pursuit that ended in south Modesto, Virgen said he and the four others were taken into custody.
Testimony in the trial will continue today in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.