A Stanislaus County judge handed down the maximum sentence for a man convicted of murder in his girlfriend’s shooting death near Keyes.
Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden sentenced 40-year-old Robert Vanderheiden to 50 years to life in prison for the shooting death of Teresa Rangel, according to John Goold, a spokesman for the Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office.
In his 2014 trial, Vanderheiden claimed that his 26-year-old girlfriend 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 jury found Vanderheiden guilty of first-degree murder, along with an enhancement for using a gun. The conviction indicated that the jury believed the defendant committed the crime with premeditation.
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Goold said the enhancement doubled Vanderheiden's sentence. Judge McFadden on June 25 also sentenced the defendant to four years in prison for a felony domestic violence conviction, but Vanderheiden will serve that sentence concurrently.
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.
A bullet fired from Vanderheiden’s .40-caliber Glock 27 pistol struck the center of Rangel's forehead. Vanderheiden testified that he was several inches away from his girlfriend when the gun fired.
Authorities said Vanderheiden shot his girlfriend in a fit of rage 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.
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 Vanderheiden was distraught after his girlfriend was accidentally shot. He told the jury that the prosecution’s case was based on “elaborate theories.”
Chief Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira told the jury that Vanderheiden shot his girlfriend hours after Rangel had made another attempt to return to her family in Concord. The prosecutor argued Rangel wanted to leave behind his controlling behavior, which had intensified over the few months before the shooting.
Vanderheiden has been in custody since his May 12, 2014, conviction. He was housed at the Stanislaus County Jail for the past four years while his attorney sought a new trial. On Monday, Vanderheiden remained in custody at the jail as he awaited a transfer to a state prison.