Merced man facing nearly 20 years after conviction for murder-for-hire plot

12/23/2013 7:11 PM

12/23/2013 10:26 PM

A Merced man faces nearly 20 years in prison after his conviction last week for a failed murder plot that prosecutors said he orchestrated last year from his jail cell.

Hector Rubalcaba, 28, was found guilty Thursday by a Merced County Superior Court jury of a single felony count of solicitation of murder after a two-week triall before Judge Ronald W. Hansen. Jurors deliberated for less than three hours before handing down the verdict, Deputy Merced County District Attorney Steven Slocum confirmed.

Prosecutors said Rubalcaba encouraged a relative to kill his ex-girlfriend. The 22-year-old woman, whose name is being withheld for safety reasons, was cooperating with law enforcement and providing information linking Rubalcaba to several unreported crimes, including a shooting and a marijuana robbery in Beachwood.

“I’m grateful that the jury really looked at the evidence in the case closely,” Slocum said, “and I think they were very conscientious about their decision.”

Rubalcaba faces up to 19 years in prison, an enhanced potential sentence because of a 2005 attempted murder conviction out of Merced County, authorities said.

Defense attorney William Davis was out of town Monday and could not be reached for comment.

Merced County sheriff’s deputies shot Rubalcaba on May 1, 2012, outside a north Merced home when he tried to run them down with his vehicle, which then crashed into an apartment complex at R Street and Buena Vista Drive. Rubalcaba ran, blood coming from his neck, into a nearby home, but quickly left and was taken into custody near Rivera Middle School, authorities said.

He was taken to a Modesto hospital and recovered from his injuries. He was subsequently booked at the Merced County Jail where, prosecutors said, he hatched a plan to “take out” the ex-girlfriend he believed was cooperating with the Sheriff’s Department.

Using a smuggled cellphone from his jail cell and a series of coded notes and letters, Rubalcaba encouraged a 36-year-old relative, whose name is also withheld for safety reasons, to kill the woman, the District Attorney’s Office said.

Investigators put a wire tap on Rubalcaba’s phone and intercepted other communications that were used as evidence in the case, prosecutors said.

Rubalcaba’s relative also cooperated with investigators and testified during the trial, Slocum said.

“He (Rubalcaba) never directly said (murder), but that was pretty clear that was the intent when you look at all the evidence,” Slocum said.

Slocum said the defendant never offered his relative any payment and “just expected him to do this because of their relationship.”

The defense reportedly noted that the woman and the relative in question had some type of romantic relationship, authorities said.

Rubalcaba faces nearly a dozen other unrelated criminal charges including felony hit-and-run and other alleged parole violations. He is scheduled to appear in court again on those cases Jan. 7, according to court records.

He remains in custody at the jail in lieu of $810,000 bail.

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