Men on trial for shooting

– After firing a gun at a rival gang member in what would be the
first of three shootings in one day during December 2003, two men
and their friends pursued their victim on a car chase through a
quiet Gilroy neighborhood.
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – After firing a gun at a rival gang member in what would be the first of three shootings in one day during December 2003, two men and their friends pursued their victim on a car chase through a quiet Gilroy neighborhood.

Israel Enrique Hernandez, 20, and Juan Hernandez, 23, are now on trial for their role in the gang rivalry that played out the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 28 – an assault, a drive-by shooting, a chase, followed by two shootings in retaliation.

During opening arguments Monday, Deputy District Attorney Stuart Scott, who handles South County gang cases, told jurors that Enrique Hernandez and Juan Hernandez had little regard for city residents who were washing their windows or working in the yard as they pursued a man in an Oldsmobile around the neighborhood of Wayland Lane and Welburn Avenue. The two men – Juan Hernandez was driving and Enrique Hernandez was in the back seat with a gun – were members of the Eighth Street Sureño gang who were intent on attacking a Brown Pride Kings Norteño rival.

“This case is going to revolve around the evidence of criminal street gangs in the city of Gilroy,” Scott said. “You’re going to learn to understand the rivalry between Norteño criminal street gang members and Sureño street gang members.”

The two men are charged with attempted murder with enhancements for using a firearm and committing a crime to benefit a street gang, as well as shooting into an occupied vehicle. Although police say Enrique Hernandez was the shooter, the driver in a drive-by shooting can face the same charges as an aider and abetter. Enrique Hernandez also is charged with assault with a deadly weapon, for allegedly throwing a glass beer bottle at a rival gang member earlier that day.

Enrique Hernandez’s lawyer, Ric G. Squaglia, asked jurors to “keep an open mind.” The day of the shootings, Hernandez noticed someone coming toward him, and prior to Dec. 28, he had been shot at three separate times, Squaglia said.

Juan Hernandez, meanwhile, may not have been driving the Ford Taurus that witnesses connected to the drive-by shooting, said his lawyer, Maria J. Fonseca. At one point that day, a Gilroy police officer broadcast a description of the driver as heavyset, balding, and wearing a black hooded sweatshirt. Another man, who was with the defendants that day and whose mother owns the car, is the only one who remotely matches that description, Fonseca said.

“(Juan Hernandez) didn’t run away, he didn’t go into hiding,” Fonseca said. “He stayed at home, did his daily routine and went to work for over a week. Over a week before they came to arrest him.”

The shooting started about 1:30pm, after the defendants spent the morning at church and bought some beer from a liquor store, Scott said. As they were driving south on Church Street between First and Second streets, they saw a Norteño gang member and Enrique Hernandez fired a .38-caliber handgun, riddling three houses, he said.

Ryan Elizabeth Viaccarezza, who lived in one of those houses, had just returned home from running errands and was standing at her car in the driveway when the shooting occurred.

“I heard gunfire,” she testified Monday afternoon. “I didn’t recognize it as gunfire at the time, but it was loud enough that I, literally, I flinched up and put my arms up because it was loud.”

She testified she saw a cream-colored Oldsmobile, identified as the victim’s car, driving away from the area, but did not see the Taurus.

Both cars drove toward Las Animas Veterans Park, where the defendants chased the Oldsmobile around the block bordered by Sherwood and Arnold drives two to three times, Scott said.

A woman who was driving on Welburn Avenue testified the cars sped past her: first, the victim’s – on the wrong side of the street – followed by the suspects’. Tami Pipkin saw them turn down Wayland and followed, after she reached the intersection. Eventually, she found the Taurus again, wrote down its license plate number, and followed it to a Church Street apartment complex, she testified. Enrique Hernandez lived in the complex, and when police arrived, he and Juan Hernandez were there with the Taurus and two friends, including the car’s owner’s son, Officer Brandon Richards testified.

Two other people living in the area testified they saw the chase circle their homes, tires squealing as they rounded curves, more than once. One woman, who was washing her windows at the time, then saw the second shooting of the day.

“All of a sudden, there was just a person standing there” across the street on Wayland, Dorothy Farias said.

The man, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, produced a revolver and fired at the defendants’ car.

“I thought it was like a movie because I’ve never seen anyone pull a gun out like that,” Farias said.

Both defendants remain in custody and testimony will continue today. The trial is expected to conclude before the end of this week.

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