Jury deliberations ended Wednesday without a verdict in the trial of a Los Banos defendant charged with killing an 18-year-old man last year during an alleged territorial street-gang dispute.
Albert Hernandez, 18, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in connection with the March 4 shooting death of Shane Moore, as well as three counts of attempted murder and a single count of criminal street gang participation.
Moore was not a gang member but was shot and killed at a home in the 800 block of La Mesa Lane when a gunman fired into a crowd of about a dozen people with a Ruger P89 pistol with an extended magazine.
Hernandez was 17 at the time of the incident but was charged as an adult. Co-defendant Christopher Aguayo pleaded guilty Oct. 2 to being an accessory in the killing and was sentenced to seven years in the state Division of Juvenile Justice. Aguayo, 16, was also charged as an adult, according to Merced Superior Court records.
A jury of nine women and three men heard closing arguments Wednesday after a three-week trial before Judge Ronald W. Hansen.
Attorneys on both sides of the case focused almost exclusively on statements Hernandez made to police when he was taken into custody last year, nearly three weeks after Moore’s death.
The Merced County District Attorney’s Office said Hernandez confessed to killing Moore and wrote an apology note to the victim’s family. However, the Merced County Public Defender’s Office said Hernandez’s statements were only made after police grilled and intimidated the teenager for several hours. The interrogation was recorded on video and played for the jury during the trial.
Chris Loethen, deputy public defender, said Hernandez’s statement “was not a confession if it’s analyzed.”
“None of you (jurors) would convict somebody on this evidence if the charge was anything other than murder,” Loethen said. “We know how the law works in Los Banos. There is no physical evidence of any kind. Their entire case rests on that video.”
Loethen criticized police interrogation methods, calling them “lies,” “half-truths” and “ruses,” and he said Hernandez only said he killed Moore because he was bullied into believing it was the only way he would get to see his own family again. “They fed him the entire thing. That interrogation is fraught with promises of leniency,” Loethen said. “You have to evaluate what effect all those lies would have on a 17-year-old boy.”
Deputy District Attorney Thomas Min disagreed, saying that confessions are some of the strongest evidence authorities can have in a case and that falsely confessing to a murder “makes no sense.”
“No one is going to make me say I committed a murder if I didn’t do it,” Min told the jury.
During trial, Min said police Detective Eduardo Solis used “rouse tactics” during his interrogation of Hernandez because gang members are notoriously uncooperative with police investigators. Min also said none of Hernandez’s rights were violated during the interview and he was given food, water, a restroom break and allowed to speak with his mother.
Outside the courtroom on Wednesday, Solis noted that such tactics are legal and particularly helpful to investigators when dealing with gang-related cases when few people typically cooperate, including victims. “We always base our techniques and questions on what the law allows,” Solis said.
During his closing arguments, Min acknowledged that police provided Hernandez several details of the homicide during the interview, but noted that when the interview began Hernandez knew he was being questioned in connection with a shooting death without specifically being told.
Jury deliberations resume today at 10 a.m.