Split murder verdicts

Gilroy
– Jurors returned to court Thursday morning to convict one man
and acquit another who stood trial on attempted murder charges.
One of the men, Israel Enrique Hernandez, 20, was found guilty
and could remain in prison for the rest of his life.
The second man, Juan Hernandez, 23, was found not guilty and was
expected to be released from custody Thursday evening.
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – Jurors returned to court Thursday morning to convict one man and acquit another who stood trial on attempted murder charges.

One of the men, Israel Enrique Hernandez, 20, was found guilty and could remain in prison for the rest of his life.

The second man, Juan Hernandez, 23, was found not guilty and was expected to be released from custody Thursday evening.

The two were arrested on Dec. 28, 2003, after a gang-related drive-by shooting on Church Street in Gilroy, and have remained in jail on suspicion of attempted murder and shooting into an occupied vehicle, with enhancements for using a firearm and committing a crime to benefit a Sureño criminal street gang.

Enrique Hernandez, who admitted to being the shooter, was convicted on all counts, including assault with a deadly weapon for an incident earlier that day, after jurors deliberated for one-and-a-half days.

“We respect the jury’s verdict,” Deputy District Attorney Stuart Scott said Thursday afternoon. “The evidence supported a guilty verdict (for Juan Hernandez), but we respect the verdict.”

Enrique Hernandez’s sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 8, the same day Scott will begin prosecuting a separate case that involves the same 2003 incident. That trial involves two men accused of being rival gang members who committed a shooting later on Dec. 28, 2003 in retaliation for Hernandez’s shooting.

The jury was very thoughtful in its deliberations, Scott said. Jurors requested that several witnesses’ testimony be read back to them.

“They were out a while, and it appeared they fairly considered the evidence,” said Ric G. Squaglia, Enrique Hernandez’s lawyer, who expressed disappointment at the verdict.

“Gang cases are tough, and there’s always the danger that the jury’s going to be prejudiced by knowledge (about gangs),” Squaglia said.

When asked, Squaglia said he thought it was possible that testimony about gang activity had an impact on the jury’s decision to convict his client of attempted murder, rather than one of the two lesser charges on which they could have convicted him.

“There’s always a danger that gang evidence is going to impact the main charges,” he said.

One juror, who asked to remain anonymous, said deliberations weighed heavily on all 12 members. While she praised the way Scott presented his case, there simply was not enough evidence to prove that Juan Hernandez was driving the car used in the shooting, she said.

“We really could not come up with a positive feeling on him being there,” said the juror, a Morgan Hill resident. “Our whole (justice) system is based on innocent until proven guilty … and we just couldn’t find a consistency in him being the driver,” the juror said in an interview.

No witnesses could provide an accurate description of the driver of the car in which Enrique Hernandez was riding when he fired three to four rounds out the window. One man who was riding in the car said Juan Hernandez was driving, as did Enrique Hernandez during his initial interview with police in January 2004. On the stand, however, Enrique Hernandez changed his story and said someone else was driving. Juan Hernandez testified he was never in the car that day.

Juan Hernandez’s lawyer did not return a message seeking comment.

The juror said the case against Enrique Hernandez was closely considered, as well, even though he “not only admitted shooting the gun, but there were witnesses and police accounts to the fact that he had actually done it.”

In order to find him guilty of attempted murder, however, jurors spent a lot of time discussing the defendant’s intent.

“Premeditation doesn’t necessarily mean waking up in the morning and planning this, it was reaching for the gun and shooting it at the time,” the juror said.

As for finding him guilty of the gang enhancement even though he denied the charge, the juror said she was struck by the way Enrique Hernandez said “our gang,” which she noticed when his testimony was read back.

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