The memory of a Fresno woman who stood up to gang violence took center stage in a Fresno courtroom on Friday when the man who wounded her in a drive-by shooting in June 2014 was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Ceclia Hernandez did not get to see Friday’s sentencing of Eric Tremel Hughley, 28. She died Aug. 10, 2015, in a traffic crash five days after she testified against Hughley’s co-defendant, Tabarri Maurice Townsend. Hernandez was 19 years old.
Because of her testimony, Townsend, 23, was sentenced to 80 years to life in prison, prosecutor Andrew Janz said Friday during Hughley’s sentencing hearing.
But not having Hernandez available to testify made it difficult to prosecute Hughley, Janz said, so he told Judge Don Penner that he reluctantly offered Hughley a plea deal.
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“Cecilia’s death was especially difficult because she was a brave, young woman who was not afraid to speak out against evil by confronting her attackers,” Janz said. “At least with this plea deal her memory will be honored and her family will receive some semblance of justice.”
Cecilia’s death was especially difficult because she was a brave, young woman who was not afraid to speak out against evil by confronting her attackers.
Fresno prosecutor Andrew Janz
Fresno police said Jose Mendoza, 22, and Hernandez were sitting in a Chrysler PT Cruiser in front of Hernandez’s home near Fresno Chandler Executive Airport when a small, dark sedan pulled up alongside them just before 3 a.m. on June 29, 2014.
The car was driven by Abdray Lee Valentine, 39. Hughley was in the front passenger seat and Townsend was in the back seat. Townsend was holding a 9mm firearm with a laser sight aimed at Mendoza’s head while Hughley was holding a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun, Janz said.
One of them asked Mendoza if he was was in a gang. When Mendoza said no, Hernandez pleaded with them not to shoot her because she had a daughter. But they cursed her and Mendoza before Townsend and Hughley opened fire, Janz said.
About a dozen bullets were fired. Hernandez was shot three times, including in the abdomen. She spent a week in intensive care and about a month in the hospital, Janz said. Mendoza was shot in the arm. Both victims survived to testify against Townsend in his August 2015 trial.
Prosecutors said Friday that Hernandez got a better look at the shooters because Mendoza was occupied shielding her from the gunfire.
Five days after her testimony, Hernandez and another teen were killed in a car crash on Millerton Road near Friant Road.
Townsend was tried separately because after the shooting he was held on a probation violation. Valentine and Hughley, however, were released pending the results of gunshot residue and ballistic testing, Janz said.
Police said Jose Mendoza and Cecilia Hernandez were shot in front of Hernandez’s home near Fresno Chandler Executive Airport on June 29, 2014.
Once the results came back, Valentine and Hughley were arrested, but their cases were filed separately from Townsend’s, court record say.
In May this year, Valentine pleaded no contest to attempted murder. Because he wasn’t a shooter, he was sentenced to seven years in prison. Hughley pleaded no contest on Aug. 31 also to an attempted murder charge and a gun allegation.
In court Friday, Janz said Mendoza continues to live in fear and Hernandez’s family still mourns her loss. Janz said Hughley’s sentencing closes a tragic chapter in the victims’ lives.
Hughley didn’t address the court, but he wrote a letter to Judge Penner. In the letter, Hughley expressed remorse and didn’t deny being a shooter, said Fresno defense lawyer Yan Shrayberman, who represented Hughley.
Hughley also told Penner that he had a difficult childhood and had no one to guide him because his father died when he was 4 months old. Hughley said his main goal was to complete his prison term so he could be a positive figure in his young daughter’s life.
Penner said he was impressed with Hughley’s letter. In announcing the punishment, Penner told him: “You can’t change the past, but you certainly can do something positive in the future.”