A mentally ill Fresno man will stand trial for killing his older brother in the family’s home nearly two years ago, a judge ruled Wednesday in Fresno County Superior Court.
Judge Arlan Harrell ordered Jose Luis Cerna Manzo, 23, to face a murder charge for the Feb. 8, 2015, killing of his 29-year-old brother, Jesus Cerna Manzo, who was shot in the head at close range with a .410 shotgun shell. If convicted of first-degree murder, he faces 50 years to life in prison.
Cerna Manzo plans to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, defense lawyer Roberto Dulce said.
Dulce said Cerna Manzo suffers from schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. He contends the killing could have been prevented because Cerna Manzo was behind bars on a theft-related offense, but jail officials released him a day before his brother was killed.
Court records say criminal proceedings were suspended in March 2015 when Cerna Manzo’s mental competency was called into question. Three months later he was sent to Atascadero State Hospital and ordered to take anti-psychotic medicine to restore his competency. In December 2015, he returned to the Fresno County Jail to face the murder charge.
Wednesday, Harrell ordered Cerna Manzo to stand trial after hearing his mother, father and sister describe the events leading up to the shooting.
I was afraid of him.
Alma Cerna Manzo, sister of defendant Jose Luis Cerna Manzo
No one saw the 11:25 a.m. shooting inside Apartment 139 of the Mariposa Meadows at Atchison and California avenues in southwest Fresno. But prosecutor Brian Hutchins said the evidence points to Cerna Manzo shooting his brother while he was sleeping.
His mother, Maria Esperanza Manzo Cerna, testified that she often sought help for her son because he was mentally ill. She said she called police several times over the years to get her son mental health treatment.
Because of his illness, Cerna Manzo often lived on the streets, his mother said. But he would frequently drop by to eat, shower and sleep, she said.
But being home caused conflict between him and his two siblings.
“I was afraid of him,” said Alma Cerna Manzo, the defendant’s sister.
Alma Cerna Manzo testified that Jesus Cerna Manzo also feared his brother. She said Jose Luis Cerna Manzo would sleep in the front room, while his brother would sleep in the kitchen with a large stick nearby.
Alma Cerna Manzo said the two brothers frequently argued because Jesus Cerna Manzo would work, but Jose Luis Cerna Manzo wouldn’t go to school or get a job to help the family. But she also said, “I knew he was not capable of living a normal life.”
Jose Luis Cerna Manzo was hard-headed, said his father, Jesus Cerna Cortez. He wouldn’t listen to the advice his older brother gave him to quit drugs and stay out of trouble, the father said.
He had a strong bond with his mother. “Sometimes he was loving and caring toward our mother,” Alma Cerna Manzo said. “Other times, he yelled at her.”
Jesus Cerna Cortez testified that Jose Luis Cerna Manzo got out of jail and slept overnight at the family home. On the day of the shooting, Jose Luis Cerna Manzo had breakfast with his parents while his brother slept in the kitchen, lying on his chest, the father said.
After breakfast, Maria Manzo Cerna testified, she and her husband and Jose Luis Cerna Manzo went to a bedroom to talk. Meantime, Alma Cerna Manzo testified, she went to the bathroom to take a shower. Before shutting the door, she recalled seeing Jesus Cerna Manzo sleeping in the kitchen.
Maria Cerna Manzo testified that a few minutes after Jose Luis Cerna Manzo left the bedroom, she heard a loud noise coming from the kitchen. She said she ran to the kitchen and discovered Jesus Cerna Manzo dead on the floor. Alma Cerna Manzo testified that she was in the bathroom when she heard her mother crying and yelling for her to call an ambulance.
Jose Luis Cerna Manzo reportedly told his sister
Both women said Jose Luis Cerna Manso had already left the house.
Alma Cerna Manzo testified she saw her dead brother lying on his chest with his head to one side. “That’s the way that he slept,” she told the judge.
Police arrested her brother about four hours later near his home. The murder weapon was never found.
A month later, Alma Cerna Manzo said she visited her brother in jail. “I wanted him to tell me it wasn’t him,” she said.
But when she asked her brother if he did it, she testified, Jose Luis Cerna Manzo replied: “I’m sorry.”
Alma Cerna Manzo testified that her brother told her that he believed his older brother was going to kill the family. “He said the plan was to kill Jesus and then kill himself,” she told the judge. “But he couldn’t do it.”
She said she visited her brother again in May 2015. By then, she said, Jose Luis Cerna Manzo was talking to himself and repeating his words. Alma Cerna Manzo said she again asked her brother why he shot the older brother. “He said he had to kill him because he had to protect us,” she testified.