The attorney for homicide defendant Albert Hernandez on Tuesday asked a Merced County judge to drop gang charges in the case, saying much of the evidence of a street gang motive was “purely speculative.”
Hernandez, 18, has pleaded not guilty in connection with the March 4 death of 18-year-old Shane Moore, who was shot dead near a garage at a home in the 800 block of La Mesa Lane in Los Banos. Police said Hernandez was shooting at rival gang members and did not intend to kill Moore, who was not a gang member.
Hernandez was 17 at the time of the incident but was charged as an adult.
The trial entered its third week on Tuesday before Judge Ronald W. Hansen in Merced Superior Court. After jurors had been dismissed for the day, Deputy Public Defender Chris Loethen asked the judge to dismiss the street gang allegations in the case.
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Loethen argued the Merced County District Attorney’s Office had not established a gang-related motive and described the gang evidence as “purely speculative.” The defense attorney noted there were about a dozen people present when Moore was killed and only one is a known gang member.
Deputy District Attorney Thomas Min said Hernandez’s recorded statements to police show the shooting was a “territorial dispute” between rival gangs. “He (Hernandez) said ‘with those northerners out there, I just started shooting,’ ” Min told the judge. “That’s what he said.”
The judge denied the defense motion, saying at least one of the men in the garage was “clearly a rival gang member.” The judge also said there was evidence showing Hernandez was a gang member and that the violence appeared “consistent with gang culture.”
Loethen has been critical of interrogation methods Los Banos police used in the case and has questioned the legitimacy of Hernandez’s confession. He said investigators asked the teenage defendant numerous “leading questions” during a lengthy interview.
On the witness stand Tuesday, Detective Eduardo Solis acknowledged telling Hernandez some details of the shooting before Hernandez confessed, but said the defendant knew other critical details without being told, including that he was being questioned in connection with a shooting on La Mesa Lane.
Closing arguments are expected today; the jury of nine women and three men could begin deliberations as early as this afternoon.
Hernandez remains in custody.