At a family barbecue on a hot August evening last year, Crisanto Bedolla set his granddaughter down and briefly spoke with his estranged wife, Lucia Medrano Zarco, before he fired five shots into her chest.
Bedolla told his children to call the police as his wife of more than 40 years died while many of their adult children and grandchildren looked on in horror.
Those facts are not in dispute. Bedolla, 61, shot and killed 63-year-old Medrano Zarco on Aug. 16, 2015, his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Chris Loethen, told a Merced County Superior Court jury on Thursday during his closing arguments.
Whether he wanted her to die there at that moment is the question a jury is expected to weigh.
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Prosecutors with the District Attorney’s Office say Bedolla is guilty of first-degree, premeditated murder. They allege that, over a period of years, he hatched a plan to kill his wife, who had moved out of their home and developed a relationship with a 21-year-old man.
Humiliated and furious, Bedolla took a gun to the family barbecue at his son’s home in the 4400 block of Franklin Road. Medrano Zarco was preparing carnitas for the family.
Bedolla spoke to a few people, then drew Medrano Zarco a short distance from the rest of the family and opened fire, according to Matthew Creeger, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case.
“If he couldn’t have her, nobody could,” Creeger told jurors Thursday.
Creeger described a cold, calculated plan to kill Medrano Zarco. Creeger said Bedolla told sheriff’s detectives he’d been thinking of killing his estranged wife since May that year. The prosecutor told jurors that about two weeks earlier, Bedolla told Medrano Zarco, “Your day and time is going to come.”
Creeger noted numerous witnesses said Bedolla never had been known to carry a gun before. Bedolla’s explanation for carrying the gun that night changed multiple times, Creeger noted.
Finally, Creeger said, witnesses described Bedolla as acting calm and collected in the minutes after the violence. He said Bedolla understood fully what he was doing and the consequences. He noted Bedolla had explained to the deputies numerous conversations he’d had with Medrano Zarco, saying, “Woman, one day if you make me lose my mind and do something stupid, don’t think that I will flee.”
He told the detectives that shooting Medrano Zarco was the only solution to his shame. He said had his wife’s boyfriend been at the party, he would have shot the young man, too.
But the defense attorney said the shocking violence was not the product of a cold-blooded plan, but, rather, the tragic actions of an unhinged man pushed to a tipping point in the heat of passion after three years of humiliation from seeing his wife around his children and grandchildren with a man more than 40 years younger.
Bedolla endured a series of indignities during the three years of his wife’s open relationship with the younger man. He also had been forced to move out of his house when his well dried up. He had been staying with his adult children, moving from home to home. Then about $20,000 in savings he’d built up with his wife disappeared, and she refused to explain where the money had gone.
“This is voluntary manslaughter. That’s what this is. Voluntary manslaughter does not mean it’s justified. It does not mean what he did was OK,” Loethen argued. “We’re not saying she deserved to be killed. We admitted he’s guilty. She didn’t deserve to die.”
But, Loethen told jurors, Bedolla wasn’t planning to kill her before the barbecue and, he said, Bedolla may not even have meant for her die when he shot her. Loethen said Bedolla was surprised when deputies told him Medrano Zarco was dead.
The report filed by Detective Sam Sanchez describes Bedolla as “somewhat shocked to hear the news.” It also goes on to say Bedolla “showed limited emotion and continued on by saying that it was the only solution for her not to continue cheating on him.”
The defense attorney noted Bedolla has no criminal history and did not have a violent or aggressive reputation.
Loethen urged jurors to convict his client of voluntary manslaughter, stressing that such a ruling would not justify Bedolla’s actions, but would punish him for his actual crime.
Merced jurors deliberated for more than four hours Thursday without reaching a verdict. The jury will reconvene at 9 a.m. Friday.
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482