Two men were sentenced this week to lengthy prison sentences in connection with a botched drug robbery in Hilmar in 2014 that ended with the death of a 21-year-old Modesto man.
Victor Hernandez, 27, of Modesto, and William White, 38, of Antioch, were sentenced Thursday in Merced County Superior Court. White was sentenced to 223 years in prison and Hernandez was ordered to serve more than 95 years behind bars in connection with the shooting death of Orlando Yepez, the Merced County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release.
Yepez was part of a group, which included White and Hernandez, that burst into a home on Kates Court during the early-morning hours of Aug. 1, 2014. The drug-related home-invasion robbery went off the rails when the intended target of the robbery, Juan Carlos Alvarez, grabbed for the gun held by Hernandez. Yepez was shot to death as the other two men struggled for the weapon, according to detectives with the Merced County Sheriff’s Office.
However, Hernandez’s attorney, C. Logan McKechnie, has said it was Alvarez — the man who was being robbed — who fired the fatal shot. McKechnie has been critical of the sheriff’s investigation.
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Walter Wall, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case, said it’s never been made clear who had control of the weapon when it went off. Wall said Alvarez was at home watching television when four men forced their way into his home. Alvarez grabbed for Hernandez’s gun, a .45-caliber pistol, and White opened fire with a 9mm handgun during the struggle and said Alvarez “was suddenly fighting for his life in his home.”
“Once (Yepez) was shot, everybody ran out of the house; everybody fled,” Wall told the Sun-Star. “It was Alvarez who called 911.”
Prosecutors argued — and jurors agreed — that Hernandez and White were legally responsible for Yepez’s death “because it occurred during the commission of the felony robbery they were attempting to commit, in Alvarez’s home.”
Sheriff’s Lt. Chuck Hale said he was satisfied with the outcome and praised the work done by the detectives and prosecutor in the case.
“It should make everyone stop and think before committing a crime because you’re responsible for the things that happen while you’re committing that crime,” Hale said Friday. “Their criminal activity makes them culpable.”
Hernandez and White were convicted in August following a jury trial in Merced County Superior Court.
In a news release issued Friday morning, Wall described the sentences handed down as “just and appropriate” and said White and Hernandez “committed murder in the course of a home-invasion robbery, and did so deliberately with no regard for human life.”
“The community of Hilmar and the County of Merced are safer and more secure because of this conviction and sentence,” Wall said in the statement.
Jose Hernandez, a fourth man involved in the deadly bungled robbery, never has been captured and remains wanted by law enforcement. Victor and Jose Hernandez are brothers affiliated with a street gang based in South Modesto, Wall said.
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482