Turlock brothers convicted of murder in rapper death

04/05/2011 12:52 PM

04/05/2011 4:20 PM

A jury today determined two Turlock brothers shot and killed a fellow gang member, who was an aspiring rap artist, nearly three years ago in retaliation for intervening against the street gang.

Defendants Alvaro “Tito” Saldana, 26, and Ray “Raymo” Gutierrez, 31, were convicted of first-degree murder. They were also convicted of using a firearm to commit the crime and killing 26-year-old Roger Villanueva for the benefit of a criminal street gang.

The firearm and gang enhancements could result in longer prison sentences.

Nine women and three men in the jury deliberated for about three hours over a two-day span after closing arguments ended Monday afternoon.

Villanueva’s relatives listened to the reading of the verdict on the opposite side of the courtroom from where the defendants’ relatives were sitting.

Before the jury was called into the courtroom, Judge Thomas Zeff admonished the courtroom audience to remain quiet while the verdict was being read. He warned them they would be escorted outside if there were any outbursts.

The relatives on both sides sobbed as the verdict was read, and nobody was escorted outside.

A sentencing hearing will not be scheduled until after a Wednesday afternoon hearing, where the court will rule on the defendants prior convictions.

Authorities have said Saldana and Gutierrez are members of the Norteños street gang, and Villanueva was a member of the gang until his death.

Villanueva, who was originally from Turlock and had recently moved to Arizona, performed at Sidelines Pub & Grill in Modesto under the name “Smoke da Villain” two days before his death.

At a Hilmar wedding reception on March 22, 2008, Villanueva knocked out Saldana while defending a Norteños gang “dropout.” Dropouts no longer work on behalf of the gang, and the prosecution said defending one would be considered “an act of treason” in the Norteños gang world.

On May 25, 2008, Villanueva was attending a large party with many other Norteños outside a home on Angelus Street in Turlock.

Villanueva and Saldana confronted each other before they went to the back yard of a vacant home to fight. The prosecution said Saldana lured Villanueva to the back yard, knowing his brother would intervene and shoot Villanueva.

Gutierrez fired 13 shots at Villanueva in front of about 20 fight spectators, not including more than 100 party attendees who remained in front of the home.

Defense attorneys said Saldana and Gutierrez were not looking for a fight when they arrived at the party. They said Gutierrez fired during the fight in self-defense.

The prosecution said Saldana and Gutierrez wanted Villanueva’s death to send a message — do not go against the gang, especially to defend a dropout.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.

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