Cellphone and ballistic evidence links a Kerman man to five random shootings of motorists’ vehicles in west Fresno County last year, a prosecutor said Tuesday in opening statements of the defendant’s criminal trial.
In Fresno County Superior Court, Jorge Javier Gracia, 42, faces 19 felony charges related to the five shootings and various drug-related allegations.
That includes assault with a semi-automatic firearm, being a felon in possession of a gun, unlawful possession of ammunition, brandishing a firearm at a person, and possession of methamphetamine.
He has pleaded not guilty. In opening statements of the trial, defense attorney Emily Takao contends Gracia is the victim of mistaken identity.
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“This case is not as clear cut as it may seem,” Takao said. According to Takao, witnesses and victims have given conflicting descriptions of the shooter’s truck, including the make, model and color.
But prosecutor Katherine Plante told the jury there’s ample evidence to convict Gracia of the 19 charged crimes. She said the evidence will show Gracia did five separate shootings in Fresno County and one in Madera County before he was arrested in January this year.
The shooting spree happened between Nov. 27 to Dec. 15, mostly along Highway 145 near Kerman. No one was hit by gunfire, but investigators were able to retrieve ballistic evidence from the victims’ vehicles, Plante said.
In addition, sheriff’s detectives obtained warrants to search Gracia’s home, truck and cell phone, Plante told the jury. In the searches, detectives found a handgun and methamphetamine in Gracia’s truck and a rifle in his home, Plante said.
A key witness in the trial will be Hector Villarreal, an off-duty state correctional officer, who’s expected to describe how he helped Kerman police capture Gracia in the late hours of Jan. 8.
Villarreal testified on March 22 at Gracia’s preliminary hearing that he, his family and a friend were near Whitesbridge and Goldenrod avenues about 11 p.m. when the driver of a black Chevrolet pickup pointed a handgun at him.
“I told my family to get down,” Villarreal testified.
Villarreal, a correctional officer at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, said he drove to a more populated area while calling Kerman police. With the defendant allegedly still following, he testified that he pulled into a gas station at South Madera and West Sunset Avenues, where he took cover behind a gas pump, drew his own firearm, and ordered the suspect to the ground.
After Gracia’s arrest, Sheriff Margaret Mims said at a news conference that ballistic tests show that bullets fired from the handgun match those recovered in five of the shooting incidents. In addition, Gracia was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of the arrest, detectives have confirmed.
Court records say Gracia has convictions for rape in 1997 and assault with the intent to commit rape in 1999. If convicted of the shooting charges, he faces life in prison. But under an elderly parole program, he could be released early after reaching the age of 60 and serving 25 years in prison.