Three Fresno men plead not guilty to murder in dispute over cough syrup

Three Fresno men pleaded not guilty Tuesday to killing one man and attempting to kill another in a dispute over the illegal sale of prescription cough syrup last November in Fresno.

In Fresno County Superior Court, Rudy Gonzalez, 19, Michael Alcala, 28, and Miguel Torres, 21, are accused of murder in the Nov. 10 shooting death of Hector Bautista, 24, of Fresno, and the attempted murder of Raymond Brown, also 24 and from Fresno. Brown was shot in the neck and paralyzed, police said.

If convicted of murder, the defendants face life in prison.

After the arraignment, the defendants’ lawyers said a case could be made for self-defense.

“The alleged victims were drawing guns,” said Fresno attorney Antonio Alvarez, who is defending Alcala. “They (defendants) thought they were going to get jumped.”

The shooting happened in the parking lot of a liquor store near Olive and Delno avenues near Roeding Park.

Police Lt. Mark Salazar said the defendants met Bautista and Brown there to conduct a transaction involving prescription cough syrup. An argument ensued between the men and shots were fired at a vehicle driven by Bautista. He was shot in the upper body and later died at Community Regional Medical Center, Salazar said.

Police say the three defendants have ties to the Bulldog gang.

Alvarez and Fresno attorney Michael Idiart, who is defending Gonzalez, described Bautista and Brown as drug dealers because they were trying to sell prescription medicine.

According to Alvarez and Idiart, the police reports say Gonzalez gave Alcala and Torres a ride to the liquor store.

“He was sitting in the car when he heard gunfire,” Idiart said, who added that the next thing his client heard was the other defendants saying, “Go, go, go.”

Alvarez said the police reports say Alcala and Torres had guns, but so did Bautista and Brown. After he was shot, Bautista drove off. Police later found a gun in his car, Alvarez said.

After accepting the not-guilty pleas, Judge Alvin Harrell III ordered the three defendants to remain in jail until their next court hearing on Feb. 10.

Outside court, Alvarez, who had been defending homicide cases for more than 20 years, said it was the first time he has heard of someone being killed over cough syrup.

The mixture of prescription-strength cough syrup with soda pop and hard candy is called Purple Drank, a concoction that’s popular with the hip hop crowd. The mixture produces mild “euphoric side effects,” which are accompanied by “motor-skill impairment, lethargy, drowsiness, and a dissociative feeling from all other parts of the body.”

Two years ago, two robbers wanting to steal cough syrup from Madera pharmacy got into a gunfight with the store owner.

Police Chief Steve Frazier said store owner, Bryan Lee, had little choice but to return fire when Aquilla Bailey, 31, burst into the Almond Avenue Pharmacy firing a .45 caliber Smith & Wesson pistol at Lee and his mother, Sophie.

Lee, an Army veteran and competitive pistol shooter, returned fire with a 1911-model Colt .45.

Frazier said Bailey fired six or seven times, with one round hitting Sophie Lee in the leg. Lee fired five back, mortally wounding Bailey. Bailey’s fellow Dog Pound gang member Jonte Harris, 27, was hit twice in the leg.