A jury on Monday found a man guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting of his girlfriend three years ago at a home near Keyes.
Robert Vanderheiden had claimed that his girlfriend, 26-year-old Teresa Rangel, was spinning the pistol with her finger in the trigger guard, and that he was trying to take the gun away from her when the weapon accidentally fired. The jurors did not believe his testimony.
The conviction indicates that the jury believes Vanderheiden committed the crime with premeditation. The defendant also was convicted of an enhancement of using a gun, which will lengthen his sentence.
Authorities said Vanderheiden shot his girlfriend in anger when she tried to leave him. The prosecutor argued in the trial that the physical evidence indicated the defendant shot his girlfriend from several feet away, not the short distance he claimed.
Vanderheiden was free on bail during the trial. After the verdict was announced Monday afternoon, bailiffs handcuffed him and took him into custody. As he was ushered out of the courtroom, he mouthed to his family, “I love you.”
Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden scheduled the defendant to return to court June 10 for his sentencing hearing. Vanderheiden, 36, faces a maximum sentence of 50 years to life in prison.
The jury of six men and six women started deliberations shortly before 3 p.m. April 23. About 90 minutes later, the jurors went home after telling the judge some of them had scheduling conflicts that would prevent them from continuing their deliberations the following day.
The jurors returned to the courthouse Monday morning after a 19-day hiatus. About 11 a.m., the jurors asked the judge the difference between first-degree and second-degree murder.
Rather than responding with a specific answer, McFadden determined it would be more appropriate to reread to the jury the instructions on all homicide charges that were verdict options in this case.
The jurors returned to the deliberation room about 11:20 a.m. and informed the bailiff about 11:45 a.m. that they had reached a verdict.
Before the verdict was announced about 1:20 p.m., the judge warned the audience that any emotional outbursts would not be tolerated. Seven bailiffs were in the courtroom to provide additional security.
Vanderheiden’s sister left the courtroom distraught after her brother’s verdict was announced, but she returned soon after. There were no disruptions as the defendant’s family and Rangel’s family left the courtroom. The bailiffs made sure the families didn’t leave the courtroom at the same time.
The shooting occurred about 9:45 p.m. March 21, 2011, at a rural home where Vanderheiden and Rangel lived with his grandparents along Warner Road, about a mile west of Highway 99 southwest of Keyes.
The defendant testified that he was several inches away from his girlfriend when he grabbed his .40-caliber Glock 27 pistol, trying to pull the gun away from her, and it fired. The bullet struck the center of her forehead.
When deputies arrived at the home, Rangel was found on a living-room couch bleeding profusely from the gunshot wound. Her boyfriend was leaning over her body, pleading for her to live.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Kirk McAllister said testimony from sheriff’s deputies showed that Vanderheiden was distraught after his girlfriend was accidentally shot. He argued that the prosecution’s case was based on elaborate theories and speculation.
District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira told the jury that Vanderheiden had shot his girlfriend in a fit of rage hours after Rangel had made another attempt to return to her family in Concord. She argued that Rangel was trying to leave behind his controlling behavior, which had intensified over the few months before the shooting.
The jury heard a recorded message left by Vanderheiden in February 2011, after he discovered a text message indicating Rangel had wanted to return to her family. “You people are trying to pull my beautiful flower away from me,” Vanderheiden said in the phone message for Rangel’s mother. “I love your daughter so much, and she’ll be in a good place. But she won’t be contacting you guys anymore.”