A jury found two men guilty of first degree murder and other charges in Merced Superior Court on Tuesday in a drug-related home-invasion homicide case dating back to 2014.
William White, 38, of Antioch and Victor Hernandez, 27, of Modesto were convicted of first degree murder and two counts of home invasion robbery with gun enhancements. They face 25 years to life in prison.
The conviction is connected to the October 2014 killing of 21-year-old Orlando Yepez, which investigators said was possibly related to the “drug distribution trade.”
“This conviction takes two dangerous men who have no regard for human life off of our streets and is a huge step in the direction of making our neighborhoods safer,” said Walter Wall, the lead prosecutor on the case.
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However, C. Logan McKechnie, who represented Hernandez, said the investigation by the Merced County Sheriff’s Office was the “worst homicide investigation I’ve ever seen,” and the jury should’ve acquitted his client.
“A 12-year-old Eagle Scout could’ve done a better job,” McKechnie said of former Merced County Detective Sam Sanchez and Detective-Sgt. Chuck Hale.
Wall disagreed, calling the investigation “excellent.”
Prosecutors said White and Hernandez, along with Yepez and two other Hernandez brothers, went to a Hilmar home belonging to Juan Carlos Alvarez intending to collect drug money. After entering the home, Hernandez pulled a gun on Alvarez. During a struggle for control of the gun, Yepez was fatally shot.
White also was found guilty of an additional count of burglary.
White’s girlfriend, Tiffany Rafighi, was granted immunity by the Merced County District Attorney’s Office, and her testimony was instrumental in the trial, Wall said.
Rafighi drove White from the Bay Area to Merced County and stayed outside in the car while the robbery and homicide took place.
Wall said Rafighi’s testimony was “very believable and credible” and played a key role in the jury’s deliberations.
McKechnie said it was clear Alvarez, who also testified, fired the shot that killed Yepez. Alvarez was caught in several lies on the witness stand, McKechnie said.
McKechnie described Alvarez as the “ring leader” and “patron” of a group of people who repeatedly committed home-invasion robberies.
“Nobody’s completely innocent,” he said. “But my client is completely innocent of murder.”
“I’m very disappointed in the verdict,” he said. “I understand the law says if you believe one person you can convict someone, even if all the evidence points the other way.”
Wall commended the jury for persevering through a three-week trial that included more than 400 exhibits and more than a dozen witnesses and coming up with a verdict.
Hugo Hernandez, who prosecutors said played a minor role in the robbery, was arrested in Menlo Park in 2015 on a traffic violation. Authorities there learned of his Merced County warrant when they booked him into jail. Hernandez currently is serving time in state prison for home invasion robbery, Wall said.
The third brother involved in the robbery, Jose Hernandez, still has not been arrested, Wall said.
Both White and Victor Hernandez will be in court again later this month for hearings on prior convictions.
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477