Tears flowed Friday in a Fresno courtroom for a Sanger man who was killed by his friend and remembered as a family man who was friendly, funny and protective of his children.
The tribute for murder victim Jose "Tony" Rodriguez, 44, was so touching, prosecutor Noelle Pebet wiped tears from her eyes.
Six years ago, Rodriguez was killed inside his Sanger home. Last month, a Fresno Superior Court jury deliberated two hours before finding Frank Mireles guilty of murder.
Because the killing was in the commission of a burglary, Mireles, 53, was sentenced on Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
During the trial, Pebet accused Mireles of killing Rodriguez with a hammer on July 6, 2012, while stealing items from his home on Webster Street near Greenwood Avenue, south of Jensen Avenue.
Mirelese testified he had no motive to kill Rodriguez since they were friends. But Pebet told jurors that detectives found clothing in Mireles' home in Visalia that had the victim's blood.
According to Pebet, Rodriguez's children left his home around 4 p.m. to go to the movies. Meantime, Mireles was visiting one of Rodriguez's neighbors.
Pebet told the jury that while Rodriguez was doing yard work, Mireles went into Rodriguez's home and burglarized it. She said Mireles then killed Rodriguez, leaving his body for "his children to find."
In a police interview, Mireles said he was not in Rodriguez's home, Pebet told the jury. But detectives later searched Mireles' apartment in Visalia and found a receipt for a pawn shop. Detectives went to the pawn shop and found items that Mireles had sold. The items were later identified by Rodriguez's family as belonging to him, Pebet said.
Outside the apartment, detectives found sneakers and jeans in a trash can that had the victim's blood, the prosecutor said.
After detectives arrested Mireles, he told them that he found Rodriguez on the floor in his home, bludgeoned. Mireles also said he got the victim's blood on him when he checked on his friend.
But Pebet pointed out that Mireles never called police and left the scene. Mireles said didn't call police and left because he was scared that the killer was still around.
On Friday, Rodriguez's family and friends sat on one side of the courtroom, while Mireles' family and friends sat on the other. The courtroom remained quiet when Brianna Rodriguez told Judge John Vogt that she was 12 when she discovered her dead father.
"I was daddy's girl," she said. "I miss my dad every day and I would do anything to have him back."
According to Brianna Rodriguez, her father was funny, goofy and creative. One of his greatest assets, she said, was protecting her and her brothers from the family's financial struggles.
Rodriguez said she had to seek counseling after her father's death. Mostly, she said, because she didn't get to say goodbye to him before he died.
She then recalled the night before he was killed. Her father had come into her bedroom to say goodnight and get a hug. Being 12, she said, she didn't want to do it.
Thinking about that visit, she told the judge: "I should have hugged him more."
Moved to tears, Pebet declined the judge's invitation to add her thoughts. Vogt, however, told the gathering that the killing was disturbing because Mireles had no prior criminal record and Rodriguez was his friend. "The circumstantial evidence, quite frankly, was overwhelming," Vogt said, adding that Mireles violated the trust Rodriguez had in him and betrayed him.
In announcing the punishment, Vogt said he found no mitigating factors on Mireles' behalf."