A Fresno man was found guilty Tuesday of aiding in the killings of two people nearly four years ago, including his friend’s father.
Jorge Rodriguez, 22, showed no emotion when the verdict was announced in Fresno Superior Court.
A jury of six men and six women deliberated three hours before convicting Rodriguez on two counts of second-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Jose Duenas, 51, and Calvin Reese Jr., 25, around 7 p.m. on Dec. 6, 2014 at Winery and Balch avenues in southeast Fresno.
In its verdict, the jury, however, ruled that Rodriguez was not the shooter, but had aided and abetted in the double murder.
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Rodriguez will face 30 years to life in prison when he is sentenced on Oct. 16. Until the sentencing, Judge Jonathan Conklin ordered Rodriguez to be held in the Fresno County Jail without bail.
Afterward, Rodriguez’s lawyer, Richard Esquivel, said he was disappointed in the verdict. “I’m at a loss for words,” Esquivel said. “I don’t know how this (verdict) could happen.
The case was unusual because in March a jury convicted Rodriguez’s co-defendant, Gustavo Duenas, of two counts of second-degree murder in the killing of his father Jose Duenas and Reese. That jury also said Duenas was not the shooter, but aided and abetted in the two murders.
Ultimately, three different juries during the last four years agreed both men were involved in the slayings but couldn’t determine which man actually pulled the trigger.
Rodriguez also was tried in March. But a different jury could not decide whether he committed the two killings. Seven jurors said he was guilty of two counts of second-degree murder; five said he was not guilty. Because Rodriguez’s verdict was not unanimous, a mistrial was declared, giving prosecutor Brian Hutchins another shot at convicting Rodriguez 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.
In Rodriguez’s second trial, Hutchins and Esquivel agreed that the two victims were shot with the same gun and that two 9 mm shell casings 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 prosecution 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, spit on him, and curse him.
Though Rodriguez has long hair now, Hutchins told the jury that photographs of Rodriguez around the time of the double killing show him with short hair. In addition, Rodriguez told police in a recorded interview that he and Duenas were at the crime scene when the shooting happened.
To get a murder conviction, Hutchins did not have to prove who fired the fatal shots. For aiding and abetting, Hutchins had to show that Rodriguez and Duenas played an active role in the killings.
In closing arguments, Hutchins told jurors that after Reese was shot, the prosecution witness heard Duenas say: “Did you get him?” Rodriguez then replied: “Yes,” according to Hutchins.
Duenas and Rodriguez then left the scene but were later arrested. The murder weapon was never found.
After the verdict, Hutchins said he had no doubt that Duenas and Rodriguez were involved in the double killings. He pointed out that Rodriguez gave conflicting accounts of the shooting to police detectives.
According to Hutchins, Rodriguez first said he and Duenas were sitting in a car when Reese approached 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.
“(Rodriguez) said five to eight shots were fired,” Hutchins told the jury. But only two shell casings were found at the crime scene and witnesses said they heard only 2-3 gunshots, the prosecutor said.
Esquivel, however, told the jury that Rodriguez was telling the truth when he first told police that Reese and Jose Duenas shot each other. He said a defense witness who is not connected to either Rodriguez or Duenas and was 50 feet from the shooting testified in the trial that it appeared to him that both victims shot each other.
Esquivel also said the prosecution’s witness who heard the shooting, but didn’t see it, and was more than 100 feet from the crime scene, is the only person who heard the incriminating statement of “Did you get him?” and the reply of “Yes.”