A Fresno man is on trial again in Fresno Superior Court, charged with a double murder, a crime that he says he didn’t commit.
Jorge Rodriguez, 22, is accused of fatally shooting Jose Duenas, 51, and Calvin Reese Jr., 25, in December 2014 in southeast Fresno.
If convicted of the murder charges, he’ll face life in prison.
In his first trial in March this year, seven jurors said Rodriguez was guilty of two counts of second-degree murder; five said he was not guilty. A separate jury, however, convicted Rodriguez’s co-defendant, Gustavo Duenas, of two counts of second-degree murder in the killing of his father Jose Duenas, and Reese.
Because Rodriguez’s verdict was not unanimous a mistrial was declared, giving the prosecution another shot at convicting him of the double killing.
Police contend Reese was a victim of a robbery when he was shot in the upper chest and that Jose Duenas was unintentionally shot in the back of the head moments after confronting Reese.
Reese died at Community Regional Medical Center that night during surgery. Jose Duenas, declared brain-dead, died a couple of days later after his organs were harvested for donation.
The deadly shooting happened at Winery and Balch avenues around 7 p.m. on Dec. 6, 2014.
In opening statements of Rodriguez’s trial on Thursday, prosecutor Brian Hutchins and defense attorney Richard Esquivel agreed that the two victims were shot with the same gun and that two 9 mm shell casing were found at the crime scene.
Hutchins told the jury that Gustavo Duenas and Rodriguez targeted Reese because he was walking alone on a dark street. He said a witness from a nearby apartment complex heard gunfire and looked out from his porch. With the scene lit by a streetlight, the witness saw a thin, young bald Hispanic man kick the mortally wounded Reese, possibly spit on him, and curse him.
Though the defendant has long hair now, Hutchins told the jury that photographs of Rodriguez around the time of the double killing show him with close cut hair. In addition, Rodriguez told police in a recorded interview that he was Duenas were at the crime scene when the shooting happened.
To support his theory of the killings, Hutchins said police confiscated Duenas phone that had text messages showing that he was planning a robbery. In one of the text messages, he contacted a person named “Smoker George,” which Hutchins said is Rodriguez’s street name. That text message led to Rodriguez’s arrest, Hutchins said.
In addition, Hutchins said Rodriguez gave police conflicting accounts about the shooting. He first said he and Duenas were sitting in a car when Reese walked up to the car and got into a verbal altercation with them. Jose Duenas, who was also standing outside the car, heard the altercation, got a crowbar and confronted Reese. Then gunfire erupted between Reese and Jose Duenas, Rodriguez told police.
Rodriguez later changed his story and said a “mystery Hispanic man” did the shooting and ran from the scene, Hutchins said. In another account, Rodriguez told police that Gustavo Duenas and Reese get into “a big shootout” after Reese shot Jose Duenas. Rodriguez said Duenas then kicked and spit on Reese for killing Duenas’ father.
“He said five to eight shots were fired,” Hutchins told the jury. But only two shell casings were found and witnesses said they heard only 2-3 shots, the prosecutor said.
“The evidence will show that Rodriguez did the shooting,” Hutchins said.
But defense attorney Esquivel told the jury Rodriguez was telling the truth when he first told police that Reese and Jose Duenas shot each other. He said a witness who saw the shooting and is not connected to either Rodriguez or Duenas will testify in the trial that it happened that way.
Esquivel also said it was Gustavo Duenas — not Rodriguez — who kicked and spit on Reese for shooting his father.