MODESTO -- A prosecutor on Thursday told jurors that they should convict four defendants of murder for participating in a "caravan of gangsters" with guns who invaded a home in Modesto's airport neighborhood in search of drugs and cash. The botched robbery resulted in the death of a man shot in the back as he pleaded for mercy.
While none of the defendants on trial are believed to be the shooter, Deputy District Attorney Tom Brennan said they are all responsible for Julio Jimenez's death. He argued that the defendants were members of a Norteño street gang regiment that robbed people at gunpoint, instilling fear in their victims through violence.
"This is just another day in the Norteño gang, as you know," Brennan told the jury. "That's how the gang gathers strength."
Bob Wildman, the defense attorney for Hector Rocha Jr., directed the jury's attention to Domingo Becerra, who has admitted he shot Jimenez in the back three times. He argued Becerra's actions had nothing to do with the robbery.
"Domingo Becerra did it for his own reasons," Wildman told the jury. "This is something that he did for his own purpose."
Closing arguments began Thursday afternoon in the trial for defendants Jaime Cerpa, Phillip Lopez, Angel Del Villar and Rocha. The other defense attorneys will present their closing arguments today in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
The robbery occurred at a home in the 600 block of Thrasher Avenue, which Becerra said was a drug house. Brennan told the jury the drug dealers had moved out, and a man and his 3-year-old daughter had moved in.
Jimenez, a woman and another man arrived at the home just as the robbers arrived. Brennan said Jimenez and his companions also were mistaken, and they were there to buy dope.
Robbery gone very wrong
The planned robbery had gone horribly wrong for Becerra and his alleged accomplices. He thought there were drugs and money at the home, but they didn't find any. While two gunmen accosted the resident and his daughter inside the house, Becerra and the other gunmen held Jimenez and his companions at gunpoint in the back yard.
Now, Becerra had to go back to gang leaders empty-handed and his hopes for elevating his gang status were gone. Becerra was worried about that, he testified, and he was angry that Jimenez had tried to escape by jumping over a nearby fence.
Becerra testified he didn't have any regrets about shooting Jimenez at that moment. He thought the victim was still lying to him, and he was afraid his fellow gang members would believe that Jimenez and other victims got the best of him.
In exchange for a plea deal that results in a sentence of 25 years to life in prison, Becerra is testifying against his accused robbery accomplices in this trial and two other trials involving alleged Norteño gang activity. Becerra testified he is marked for death by his former fellow gang members and worries he won't survive, even in prison.
The prosecutor told the jury that Becerra is not on trial, and they shouldn't feel forced to like the reputed gang member. He called Becerra an "institutionalized sociopathic homicidal maniac" who shot a man as he begged for his life.
Becerra, however, gave investigators incriminating information about the home-invasion robbery soon after he was arrested, Brennan told the jurors. He said Becerra also led investigators to find crucial evidence, such as security camera footage and guns used in the robbery, that corroborated his testimony.
Wildman argued that Becerra can't be trusted, first telling the jury that he shot Jimenez after two others entered the home, then saying he fired the shots before anyone entered the house.
"He just gets up and says stuff and makes up the stuff as he goes along," Wildman told the jurors.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.