A Fresno man was found guilty Friday of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of his boss who fired him from a mattress company five years ago, but jurors weren’t sure if he pulled the trigger.
Rafael Apolinar, 26, lowered his head when the verdict was announced in Fresno County Superior Court.
James Blanco, 29, was shot to death June 30, 2011, 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.
During the trial, Apolinar testified that his friend, Andrew Macias, shot Blanco. But he admitted he was mad at Blanco for firing him from Pleasant Mattress Co. in Fresno, and said he bought a gun with the intention of shooting Blanco, but not killing him.
In addition, Apolinar testified that he drove Macias to Blanco’s home on the night the victim was killed.
The jury deliberated six hours before finding Rafael Apolinar guilty of murder. But only eight jurors of 12 said Apolinar shot James Blanco.
The jury of seven women and five men deliberated six hours before finding Apolinar guilty of murder. But only eight jurors said Apolinar shot Blanco. If all 12 jurors had said Apolinar used a gun to kill Blanco, it would have added 25 years to his prison sentence.
Now, he faces 25 years to life in prison for the murder conviction, unless prosecutors decide to retry him on the gun allegation. Prosecutors told Judge Houry Sanderson they will make the decision next week. If they decline to retry Blanco, he will be sentenced on May 20.
According to defense attorney Roberto Dulce, Macias never was charged with killing Blanco. Instead, Macias was supposed to be a key prosecution witness in the trial because after Blanco was shot, Macias talked to sheriff’s detectives and implicated Apolinar as the gunman.
During the trial, prosecutor Brian Hutchins told the jury that Apolinar 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, calling James Blanco a punk and other names. Apolinar also complained about being treated as a slave and said James Blanco had no clue what he was doing as plant manager, Hutchins said.
On the witness stand, Apolinar candidly told the jury that Blanco had reason to fire him. But he testified he had no motive to kill Blanco because he got a better-paying job at a furniture store after he was let go from the mattress factory.
On the day of the shooting, convicted killer Rafael Apolinar said he drank eight or nine 24-ounce cans of beer.
He 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. On the day of the shooting, Apolinar 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. He said Macias replied “All right, I’m down.”
On 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 became concerned because there could be innocent people in the house. 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.
He said he tried to stop Macias, but flinched when he saw the gun pointed toward him.
After Macias left the truck, Apolinar testified he looked around the neighborhood “to see if anyone was watching.” And after he heard 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. 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’ hand and said goodbye to him. The gloves, which were later found in Apolinar’s residence, had gunshot residue on them, Hutchins told the jury.