Crime

Tempers boil over at Fresno murder sentencing

Two people were arrested Tuesday when a shouting match erupted in a Fresno courtroom during the sentencing of two men convicted of killing a Fresno mother of two.

Mark Ortega and Felix Hernandez each received a life prison term in Fresno County Superior Court for their role in the March 2008 killing of Regina Morales.

Once the sentence was announced, relatives of the defendants and relatives of the victim started yelling and cursing each other inside Judge Gary Orozco's courtroom.

Once they were ushered out of the courtroom, their dispute continued in the hallway, Sgt. Chris Torres said.

The disturbance was quelled, and two people were arrested, Torres said. Their names were not immediately available.

Torres said he didn't know what caused the disturbance.

In January, a jury convicted Ortega, 34, of first-degree murder for shooting Regina Morales with a rifle and robbing her and her friend, Gabriel Alvarado, inside Morales' home on March 29, 2008.

The jury found Hernandez, 28, guilty of robbing Morales and Alvarado.

A third defendant, Oscar Verdugo, 25, was acquitted of all charges.

After the verdict, Morales' family expressed disappointment.

"This is totally unfair," said Sonya Morales, one of victim's sisters.

"They should have all been convicted of murder," she said. "Instead they get to laugh and think it's funny, while my sister is 6 feet under."

But Ortega's mother, Kimberly Nott, said Tuesday that she and her family and friends, as well as the defendants, always have been respectful of the Morales family. "They have a right to grieve," she said.

Nott, however, blamed bailiffs for allowing Morales' family and friends to show disrespect toward the defendants and their families and friends.

"It's unfair because my son is innocent. He didn't kill anyone," Nott said.

Torres said he could not comment further because courtroom bailiffs have not given him a full report on what happened in Orozco's courtroom. But he said everyone who goes to court is treated fairly.

The judge sentenced Ortega to life in prison without parole. Hernandez received 156 years to life because he also was convicted of gun enhancements that added time to his prison term.

During the trial, jurors learned that Morales was a small-time drug dealer.

A woman, Benita Ochoa, testified that she went with the three defendants to Morales' home on the night of March 29. Once there, she went inside and spoke with Morales and Alvarado. She later used her cell phone to summon two of the defendants.

While Verdugo waited in the car, Ortega and Hernandez went to the back door of Morales' home, Ochoa testified. She let them in.

Ortega, wearing a red bandanna around his face, shot Morales four times below the waist, prosecutor Jeff Dupras said. Morales died a few hours later.

In addition to Ochoa's testimony, the evidence included police finding Ortega with the murder weapon -- a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle -- when he was arrested. Hernandez had some of Morales' belongings.

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