A 20-year-old UC Merced student and his 37-year-old mother were arrested Thursday in what Merced County sheriff's investigators are calling a bizarre insurance fraud and murder scheme.
Suspects Laura Hernandez and her son Erick Hernandez Camarillo were booked Thursday into the Merced County Jail on suspicion of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and insurance fraud in the March shooting death of 39-year-old Alberto Rodriguez Macias in a Santa Rita Park home near Dos Palos.
Detectives with the sheriff's Major Crimes Unit say Macias was married to Hernandez and was Camarillo's stepfather.
Sheriff Mark Pazin, who announced the arrests during a Friday morning press conference, said the pair had taken out $1 million in life insurance policies from 2005 to 2009 -- and killed Macias to reap the financial benefits.
Pazin said "glaring" inconsistent statements by the suspects led to the arrests, in addition to "items that we found that just didn't add up to a random killing."
For example, Pazin said Camarillo made some statements about being at school the day Macias' body was found. "That (alibi) just didn't pan out," Pazin said, adding, "I think he was killing somebody, quite frankly."
Pazin also mentioned a cell phone was booked into evidence and led to questions about "a number of inconsistencies."
The family had been in financial distress at the time of the killing, Pazin said,
On March 14, sheriff's deputies responded to a home around 1:30 p.m. in the 7900 block of Azuza Road about a body that had been found. Detectives say Hernandez claimed to have found Macias' body on the floor and went to the home of a neighbor for assistance.
An autopsy determined Macias was killed by two shots to the head.
The couple had been staying at the home, which was vacant, because Macias was a carpenter and was renovating the residence for someone.
Hernandez had told investigators she'd been with Macias most of the day on March 14, saying he was "hungry" and she went next door to get some food for him. She claimed to have returned to the house and found his body. She then went back to the neighbor's home for help. "There were certain indicators of the body that he had been dead longer than when she had left him," Pazin said. "The timeline just wasn't jiving. It was all over the board."
In addition, it appeared Hernandez and Camarillo were both collecting Macias' unemployment checks after he died. Both suspects were unemployed, Pazin said.
Pazin said deputies also had questions because of the way Hernandez reacted to her husband's death. "I would submit to you (she) was relatively composed throughout all this, then all of a sudden got distraught," Pazin said. "I'm not going to say a Best Supporting Actor role would be proper on this, but there are some items we believe caused us concern and allowed further investigation into this."
The suspects were arrested Thursday at a residence on Pettinotti Road in Merced, where they reside.
Investigators said Camarillo graduated as salutatorian of Golden Valley High School's class of 2008.
Both suspects are being held without bail.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.