Judge says accused labor camp shooter fired gun accidentally

Maximo Hernandez, at left, with attorney Greg LaForge, pleaded

The 65-year-old Hollister man accused in a shooting at the
Hernandez Labor Camp in June pleaded no contest Friday to related
charges, but a judge indicated the suspect accidentally fired the
gun and granted felony probation with a maximum penalty of a year
in county jail.
The 65-year-old Hollister man accused in a shooting at the Hernandez Labor Camp in June pleaded no contest Friday to related charges, but a judge indicated the suspect accidentally fired the gun and granted felony probation with a maximum penalty of a year in county jail.

The suspect, Maximo Hernandez, initially had a preliminary examination set for 1:30 p.m. Friday – where a judge customarily would decide if there is enough evidence for a trial – but Hernandez chose to forgo it and instead pleaded no contest.

Investigators believe that 21-year-old Santos Vasques and Hernandez, who were both residents of the labor camp, got into an argument while working in the fields. It ended with Hernandez shooting Vasques in the face. Vasques was flown by helicopter to a San Jose-area hospital where he recovered.

After the gunshot, Hernandez fled the scene on foot, according to the sheriff’s office. He was arrested the next day after deputies received a tip about his location on McCloskey Road.

During Friday’s hearing, visiting Judge Robert O’Ferrell accepted the plea from Hernandez to charges of assault with a firearm along with enhancements for causing great bodily injury.

O’Ferrell indicated that Hernandez would receive felony probation for three to five years – which carries the potential for up to one year of incarceration in county jail. At his sentencing set for Sept. 16, though, Hernandez will receive credit for time served since his arrest in June.

O’Ferrell noted during the six-minute discussion that if convicted at trial, Hernandez could have faced up to 12 years for all of the charges. He also pointed out that the suspect could be deported to Mexico and refused readmission to the country. Federal immigration authorities have a hold on Hernandez, and public defender Greg LaForge, his attorney, acknowledged deportation is likely.

The most poignant revelation, however, came when the judge broached details from a fight that led to the shooting. Hernandez was arrested June 8 on suspicion of attempted murder, less than a day after Hollister resident Vasques was found with a gunshot wound to his face at the labor camp on Fallon Road.

“It’s been indicated from what I’ve learned about this case, the assault involved a weapon and the weapon was discharged,” O’Ferrell said. “It was not your intent to fire the weapon at the person. The weapon was used more as a club and went off inadvertently.”

LaForge said the two had been fighting over something to do with Hernadez’s daughter.

LaForge stood next to Hernandez at the hearing. Hernandez was dressed in striped jail clothing and also was accompanied by an interpreter. He answered “yes” to the judge’s comments, including O’Ferrell’s questioning whether he accepted guilt for the crimes.

Aside from the circumstances of the incident, O’Ferrell also said he considered that Hernandez never had been in trouble with the law.

LaForge said his side’s investigation revealed the “fact that he didn’t actually point and shoot it (the gun) at anybody.”

“We feel it’s a fair resolution,” LaForge said.

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