A former Fresno Bulldog who testified in his trial that he feared for his life when he killed a rival last year was found guilty Friday of second-degree murder.
Thomas Hernandez, 28, took the verdict in stride, asking Judge Hilary Chittick in Fresno County Superior Court if he could be sentenced on April 5 -- his birthday.
Because April 5 is a Saturday, Chittick said Hernandez will be sentenced on April 3. He faces a minimum of 40 years to life in prison.
Both sides agreed in the trial that in 2010 Hernandez had four tattoos removed from his face. One of the tattoos showed Hernandez's former allegiance to Fresno's Lewis Street Bulldog gang.
At issue was whether he killed Bernardo Valdez, 29, a Bond Street Bulldog, in self-defense last April. Valdez was shot in the back with a sawed-off shotgun.
It took the jury four days to reach a decision.
Jurors found Hernandez not guilty of first-degree murder and said he did not kill for the benefit of a criminal street gang. If convicted of those charges, Hernandez would have faced life in prison without the opportunity for parole.
But they said he was guilty of second-degree murder, as well as guilty of assault with a firearm and shooting at an inhabited dwelling.
After the verdict, Chittick granted the jury's request to leave the courthouse through a rear exit.
The killing happened around 3 p.m. April 24 on the 4400 block of East Nevada Avenue near Cedar and Tulare avenues.
During the trial, prosecutor Gabriel Brickey told jurors that Hernandez still has "Bulldog" tattooed on his neck and "ESF," which stands for East Side Fresno, tattooed on his back.
Right before he shot Valdez, Hernandez shouted "This is Lewis Street" and yelled "Bulldog" at the people who witnessed the shooting, Brickey said.
And after he shot Valdez, Hernandez threatened neighborhood residents with his shotgun and told them not to call police, the prosecutor said.
But defense attorney Antonio Alvarez said Hernandez became a target once he took steps to leave the gang in 2010. 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 a sawed-off shotgun out of his backpack and shot Valdez. The others scattered.
Hernandez talked about leaving the gang lifestyle and testified that he feared for his life because he believed Valdez was reaching for a weapon in his waistband.
But he faced an uphill defense because he shot Valdez in the back, Alvarez said Friday after the verdict. "I think if he had shot him anywhere else, the jury might have convicted him of manslaughter," Alvarez said.
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