MERCED — A Merced County jury convicted a 23-year-old man Tuesday of committing a double homicide in 2010 near Dos Palos.
It took the jury of six men and six women less than four hours to find Bryan Bridgeford guilty of two counts of first- degree murder with special circumstances in the shooting of Juan Avalos, 21, and Lionel Medina, 16, both Dos Palos area residents.
His hair slicked back, with a tattoo of the Playboy bunny logo under his right eye and a tear-drop under the left, Bridgeford turned red and wiped his eyes as a court clerk announced the guilty verdicts in Judge Donald J. Proietti's courtroom.
Prosecutors say Bridgeford shot the victims, who were members of a rival gang, about 1 a.m. Jan. 5, 2010, inside a detached garage in the 19000 block of Highway 33 near Dos Palos — the residence where Medina lived.
During interviews with Merced County sheriff's deputies, Bridgeford confessed to the killings.
A man who picked up Bridgeford and his friends after the shooting, Jose Vidal German, 23, also said the defendant confessed to committing the crime. German testified as a witness for the prosecution in the case.
Deputy District Attorney David Elgin, who prosecuted the case with Deputy District Attorney Misty Compton, said he was pleased the jurors obtained justice for the victims.
"He basically confessed to the crimes, and I believe that's what really carried the day here," Elgin said.
Chris Caine, Bridgeford's attorney, declined comment after the verdicts were announced Tuesday.
During his closing argument, Caine noted that there was no DNA or fingerprints on the rifle, and no physical evidence tying his client to the slayings. Caine maintained that his client, who has a low IQ and poor communication skills, gave a false confession because he was frightened.
Caine also argued that German was not a credible witness. "He told numerous lies. Who's to say what is true in this case?" Caine told jurors.
Elgin, however, reminded jurors that German was not the person on trial.
He also told jurors there would have been a "mountain of evidence" to refute Bridgeford's confession if it had been false. "There is no reasonable information the confession is false," Elgin said.
During the trial, jurors heard testimony from a witness who claimed to have been robbed by Bridgeford less than a day before the homicides. The witness described Bridgeford's weapon as a rifle with a clear magazine — a description that matched the gun used in the killings.
Prosecutors believe German hid the rifle for Bridgeford after Dos Palos Police Chief Barry Mann showed up at the defendant's house, saying he was investigating the robbery.
Another suspect arrested in the case, Henry Delatorre, pleaded no contest in 2011 to two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the killings. He was sentenced to 31 years in prison.
German, who was arrested in the days after the killings, is awaiting trial. He's being held on a charge of being an accessory after the fact.
Bridgeford, who was also convicted of being an active participant in a criminal street gang, is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 19. He faces life in prison without parole.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@merced sunstar.com.