Two Fresno men will stand trial in connection with the shooting deaths of an innocent man and the father of one of the defendants, who were killed during a robbery in December 2014, a judge ruled Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court.
After hearing three days of evidence, Judge Houry Sanderson ordered Gustavo Duenas, 21, and Jorge Rodriguez, 20, to face two counts of murder and one count of robbery.
Duenas also will face charges of escaping police custody after being arrested Dec. 21, 2014, on the murder charges, the judge said. Police found the handcuffed man hiding in a flower bed at the downtown federal building after being on the loose less than 45 minutes.
Police said his father, Jose Duenas, 51, and Calvin Reese Jr., 25, were fatally shot in the early-evening hours of Dec. 6, 2014, at Winery and Balch avenues in southeast Fresno.
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In making her ruling, Judge Houry Sanderson said the case was disturbing because text messages between the two defendants infer that they were looking for an African American to rob. One of the victims was African American.
Prosecutors said Reese was the innocent victim of a robbery when he was shot in the upper chest. Police said Jose Duenas was unintentionally shot in the back of the head moments after confronting Reese.
Reese died at Community Regional Medical Center later that night during surgery. Jose Duenas was declared brain-dead at the hospital and died a couple of days later after his organs were harvested for donation.
In making her ruling, Sanderson said the case was disturbing because text messages between the two defendants infer that they were looking for an African American to rob. Reese was African American.
During the hearing, prosecutor Brian Hutchins contended that Gustavo Duenas and Rodriguez picked Reese because he was walking alone on a dark street around 7 p.m. on Dec. 6, 2014. He accused Rodriguez of shooting Reese to rob him of his wallet. Duenas then kicked and spat on the mortally wounded Reese as he lay prone in the street, witnesses said.
To support his theory of the killings, Hutchins played more than four hours of videotaped police interviews in which Duenas and Rodriguez talk to detectives about the double killing in separate interviews.
Let’s find some stupid (people) to rob like last time. I know a few.
Text message to murder suspect Gustavo Duenas
In the interviews, Fresno police Detective Adrian Alvarez told Duenas that his cellphone had text messages showing that he was planning a robbery with relatives or friends.
“Let’s find some stupid (people) to rob like last time. I know a few,” a text message to Duenas said.
“Line them up,” Duenas responded in a text message.
In the recorded interviews, Duenas admitted wanting to rob people because “he was down and out and needed money.” But he denied shooting his father or Reese.
Gustavo Duenas lived with his family in an apartment on Winery Avenue near Balch where the shooting happened. Reese also lived in the area. Earlier that afternoon, Duenas had called police to report that his father was arguing with his mother. Police told Jose Duenas to leave the home.
Meantime, Reese, who was engaged to be married and had a baby daughter, was returning home from the store.
Calvin Reese Jr., 25, was engaged to be married and had a baby daughter when he was shot and killed while returning home from the store.
In his first police interview a day after the shooting, Duenas said he was going to give his father a ride when he saw Reese walking north on Winery. He said Reese cursed them and readied the gun for firing, but continued to walk north toward Balch Avenue. Duenas said his father got upset at Reese and walked north on Winery on the other side of the street. At Balch Avenue, Jose Duenas crossed the street and confronted Reese, his son said.
Gustavo Duenas insisted that he remained in the family’s pickup truck and told his father to stop before he confronted Reese. Duenas said he ran to his father’s side once he heard gunfire and saw his father collapse to the ground.
Detective Alvarez said two 9 mm shell casings were found near Jose Duenas, but Gustavo Duenas insisted he heard three gunshots from two guns. No guns, however, were found at the crime scene, Alvarez said. And Gustavo Duenas agreed he never saw a gun near his father or by Reese. But he claimed he didn’t know who shot his father or Reese.
In a second interview two weeks later, Alvarez told Duenas that he lied to them because he knows who shot his father and Reese. The detectives have said they have a witness who heard Gustavo Duenas say a racial slur when Reese walked by them. The detectives also told Duenas that they found his father’s whip and a tire iron from the family truck at the crime scene.
In addition, Alvarez said a witness heard Duenas ask the shooter: “Did you get him, dog?”
After intense questioning, Duenas said Rodriguez was with him and his father when Reese was shot, but declined to name Rodriguez as the shooter.
“It could have been George (Jorge), but I don’t know,” he said.
When he learned he was being arrested, he said: “I’m going down for my dad’s murder? I didn’t shoot him.” He then told the detectives that if he was guilty, he would have fled to Mexico. He said he remained in Fresno because he wanted justice for his father. But Alvarez told him he is as guilty as the person who pulled the trigger.
In his police interview, Rodriguez also denied shooting Jose Duenas and Reese. But after giving several conflicting accounts as to what happened, Rodriguez finally said in his police interview that he saw Gustavo Duenas shoot Reese after Reese shot his father. Rodriguez also said Gustavo Duenas cursed, kicked and spat on Reese and then took Reese’s gun.
But Alvarez told Rodriguez there is no evidence of two guns being fired at the crime scene. The coroner also testified that the victims were not shot at close range.