Reedley gang members expected to turn on each other as murder trial gets underway
Opening arguments began Monday at the trial for a two-year-old murder in the case against the alleged shooter, Ricardo Villanueva, 21, and Juan Hernandez, 23, the alleged shot caller for their gang. The men are on trial for the Sept. 12, 2010, shooting death of Juan Negrete, 33, at his Jefferson Avenue home in Reedley which also injured Anselmo Salinas, now 57.
Testifying against the accused will be Edgar Padilla, 20, Anthony Ray Gonzalez, 22, and Manuel Gonzalez, 20, who, according to court reports, will testify under a plea deal. Padilla and Manuel Gonzalez will go to prison for 24 years and Anthony Gonzalez’s sentence is 22 years. The Fresno County Superior Court jury of seven women and five men were told by Mark Broughton, Hernandez’s defense lawyer, that the trio will testify to save their own butts.
The prosecution also will rely on testimony from Cesar Garcia, a former high-ranking member of the Vario East Side Reedley gang. He was used as an informant by police, leading to arrests in four Reedley-area murder cases that left five people dead. Defense attorney Broughton described Garcia on Monday as “a snitch” who was released from jail to record confessions in the Negrete case for police. He said Garcia made nearly 100 recordings for law enforcement and about half are missing. He theorizes that Garcia, not Hernandez, was the shot caller.
Garcia, claimed Broughton, is “a criminal of epic proportions and he became the sacred cow of law enforcement.”
But prosecutor Ronald Wells said the Negrete murder was orchestrated by Hernandez, who selected the men participating and the car that was used. He told the jury that Hernandez was upset that a rival gang beat up one of its members that week and also killed another member. He also noted that Garcia became an informant in early 2010, telling gang enforcement detectives that he wanted to change his life. As a high-ranked member of the Reedley gang, other members confided in him about details of their crimes to ensure no crimes were committed against the gang itself. , Garcia said he could help, .
After the Negrete shooting, Garcia told police he would help them in exchange for relocation because he didn’t want his young son to live the life he led, and while police didn’t have any pending cases against Garcia when he volunteered as an informant, at the time he was in Tulare County Jail for DUI and evading police.
Police arranged for his release, and he recorded Hernandez and Villanueva talking about the Negrete shooting. Villanueva told Garcia he thought he was the one who fired the fatal shots while Wells described the men who got plea deals as bit players. Anthony Ray Gonzalez was also recorded by Garcia and admitted that his job that night was to distract police. Manuel Gonzalez admitted driving the car used in the shooting, but said he didn’t know the shooting was planned. Padilla also admitted to being in the car.
A sixth man, Ramanjit Hundal, is being tried separately in the Negrete murder after he was stabbed by Hernandez in court last month, sheriff’s reports said. His trial for the Negrete shooting will start next year, said his lawyer, Kathy Hart, who stated that her client is believed to be a second shooter in the Negrete case. He also is suspected with a co-defendant in a 2009 Reedley murder.
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