A Fresno man testified Tuesday in his murder trial that he purchased a gun with the intention of shooting the boss who fired him from a mattress company five years ago.
After buying the gun off the street from a dealer, Rafael Apolinar, 26, said he picked up his friend and drove to James Blanco’s home in southeast Fresno during the late hours of June 30, 2011.
Apolinar told the jury he was mad at Blanco for firing him from Pleasant Mattress Co. in Fresno.
But when he got to Blanco’s home, Apolinar said he changed his mind after he saw a car parked in the victim’s driveway. He became concerned because there could be innocent bystanders in Blanco’s home. He testified he wanted to leave, but his friend, Andrew Macias, insisted on scaring Blanco. He said Macias then headed to Blanco’s home with a gun in his hand.
A short time later, Apolinar recalled, he heard gunshots. Soon after, Apolinar said, Macias jumped into his truck and told him to drive away.
“It was kind of surreal. I was in shock,” Apolinar told the jury.
It was kind of surreal. I was in shock.
Accused killer Rafael Apolinar testified
Apolinar’s account of Blanco’s final moments wrapped up two weeks of testimony in which Macias, who is on the witness list, failed to show up to testify for the prosecution. The trial now heads to closing arguments Thursday with jury deliberations to follow.
If convicted of murder, Apolinar faces up to 50 years to life in prison.
Blanco, 29, was shot to death inside his home on the 6000 block of East Alta Avenue near Kings Canyon Road and Fowler Avenue. The gunman, armed with a .40-caliber weapon, fired nine times through a bathroom window, striking the victim in the shoulder and back as he took a shower.
What is in dispute is whether Apolinar or Macias killed Blanco.
The trial hit a snag Tuesday when a juror questioned why Macias didn’t testify. In a note to trial Judge Houry Sanderson, the juror said Macias is the most important witness in the case and asked why Macias did not testify. The juror also told the judge that he had read his note to other jurors.
Sanderson, prosecutor Brian Hutchins and defense attorney Roberto Dulce never explained why Macias didn’t testify. Instead, Sanderson read a jury instruction that said jurors must keep an open mind until all the evidence is presented and only consider the evidence presented in court.
Sanderson then continued the trial after each juror, including the one with concerns about Macias, promised to follow the instruction.
Court records show that Macias never has been charged with killing Blanco. He was supposed to be a key witness, implicating Apolinar as the gunman who killed Blanco.
Tuesday, Hutchins told Apolinar that he had motive to kill Blanco because Blanco had fired him for poor performance and a bad attitude about three months before the shooting.
In addition, Hutchins said, on the day of the shooting, Apolinar complained to the victim’s brother, Harvey Blanco. Apolinar called James Blanco a punk and other names, complained about being treated as a slave, and said James Blanco had no clue what he was doing as plant manager. Harvey Blanco told him to leave.
I wanted to shoot him, but not kill him.
Accused killer Rafael Apolinar
On the witness stand, Apolinar was candid, telling the jury that Blanco had reason to fire him. He also admitted that he did call Blanco names in front of his brother and said he was mad at his former boss. “I wanted to shoot him, but not kill him,” he testified.
Apolinar said he and Macias grew up together as gang members in Daisy Park, a neighborhood near Chestnut and Jensen avenues. On the day of the shooting, he said he drank eight or nine 24-ounce cans of beer. “I was fairly intoxicated and that took me over the edge,” he said.
He recalled telling Macias about his troubles with Blanco and his intention to shoot him. “All right, I’m down,” Macias replied, according to Apolinar.
On the the trip to Blanco’s house, Apolinar said he gave the gun to Macias in case he was pulled over. He recalled driving up slowly toward Blanco’s home, turning off his truck’s headlights and parking across the street from the victim’s home.
Apolinar testified he put on gloves and was ready to shoot Blanco. But when he saw a car in Blanco’s driveway, he said, “In my head, I’m thinking, ‘This is not going to work.’ ”
He said he decided not to shoot Blanco and started to leave when Macias stopped him and talked about using the gun to scare Blanco. Apolinar testified that he told Macias: “Let’s go. It’s not worth it.” He recalled trying to pull Macias back into the truck, but flinched when he saw the gun was pointed toward him.
After Macias left the truck, Apolinar testified he looked around the neighborhood “to see if anyone was watching.” He said he was shocked by the loudness of the gunfire.
Apolinar said he drove Macias to his home. There, Apolinar testified that he took off a layer of his clothing and gave it to Macias. He said he got the idea from watching television and movies.
Macias also took off a layer of clothing, Apolinar testified, and stuffed all the clothes, as well as the gun, into a small duffel bag. The murder weapon never was found.
Before leaving, Apolinar testified he still had gloves on when he shook Macias’s hand and said good-bye to him.
Apolinar told the jury he had no motive to kill Blanco because he got a better paying job at a furniture store after he was fired from the mattress factory.
But Hutchins told Apolinar that he shot and killed the victim and tried to cover it up by admitting that he shed a layer of clothing. Hutchins said Apolinar tricked Macias into joining him by telling him that they were going to party with some girls.
Hutchins also pointed out that Apolinar told the jury he shook Macias’s hands with his gloves on because he knew the gloves had gunshot residue on them. In addition, Hutchins said, detectives found the gloves wrapped in a towel inside a home where Apolinar was living.
“I guess you could say I didn’t want to get caught in any way,” Apolinar testified.