A Fresno man who wanted to leave the Bulldog gang lifestyle was forced to kill a rival because he feared for his life, his attorney said Thursday in opening statements of the man's murder trial.
Both sides agreed in Fresno County Superior Court that Thomas Hernandez had four tattoos removed from his face. One of the tattoos showed Hernandez's allegiance to Fresno's Lewis Street Bulldog gang.
What's in dispute is whether Hernandez killed Bernardo Valdez in self-defense last April, especially since both sides agree that Valdez was shot in the back with a sawed-off shotgun.
The killing happened in broad daylight -- around 3 p.m. April 24 -- on the 4400 block of East Nevada Avenue near Cedar and Tulare avenues.
The trial in Judge Hilary Chittick's courtroom will explore the violent world of Fresno's Bulldog gang, which has warring factions throughout the city -- and can be dangerous for members who want to leave.
Though Hernandez, 29, took tattoos off his face, he still has Bulldog tattooed on his neck and ESF, which stands for East Side Fresno, tattooed on his back.
Valdez, also 29, was from the rival Bond Street Bulldog.
Bulldogs on Lewis Street and Bond Street have a violent history against each other, the lawyers said.
In opening statements, prosecutor Gabriel Brickey told jurors that Hernandez is guilty of murder because he shouted "This is Lewis Street" right before he fatally shot Valdez in the back with a sawed-off shotgun.
Hernandez also shouted "Bulldog" at the people who witnessed the shooting, Brickey said.
He also is charged with three counts of assault with a firearm because Brickey said Hernandez threatened neighborhood residents with his shotgun and told them not to call police after he killed Valdez. He also faces a charge of shooting into an inhabitant dwelling.
Attorney Antonio Alvarez, who is defending Hernandez, however, asked jurors to put themselves in Hernandez's place.
In 2010, Hernandez got tired of the gang lifestyle and paid to have his tattoos removed, Alvarez said. He was going to get his other tattoos removed, but ran out of money, he said.
But once Hernandez took steps to leave the Bulldog gang, he became a target. "He was an undesirable," Alvarez said.
On the day of the shooting, Hernandez knew his life was in danger because he heard whistling as he walked down Nevada Avenue toward a relative's home, Alvarez said. The whistling was to alert Bulldogs in the area that an intruder was in their midst, he told the jury.
When he saw a half-dozen rivals coming toward him, Hernandez pulled out a sawed-off shotgun from his backpack and fired one round. Valdez fell to the ground, but was not hit, Alvarez said. The others scattered.
Hernandez then fired one round into Valdez's back because Hernandez believed Valdez was reaching for a weapon in his waistband, Alvarez said.
After the shooting, Hernandez, in a panic, did go into neighbors' homes "because he's trying to find safety," Alvarez said. He later surrendered to police and "told them exactly what happened," he said. "He didn't sugar-coat it."
Alvarez told the jury that most people wouldn't be carrying a sawed-off shotgun in a backpack. "Yes, it was a bad choice, a horrible choice," Alvarez said. "But he felt he needed it for his own safety."
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