An 18-year-old will stand trial for double murder in what a Fresno County judge said were among the most senseless homicides he’s had to rule on.
Because the case was filed with the special circumstances of multiple murder, the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office can seek the death penalty against Christopher Lenore Sanders, whose smooth skin against a red jail uniform emphasized his youth during a one-and-a-half hour preliminary hearing Tuesday.
The decision to seek the death penalty must be stated at the arraignment set for Oct. 3.
“There is no question who the shooter was,” Judge W. Kent Hamlin said. “These are among the most senseless homicides I’ve heard, and I’ve heard many.”
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Sanders is charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. But the motive remains unclear.
On July 30 at the West Shaw Estates condominiums near Shaw and Marks avenues, Sanders suddenly pulled out a handgun and shot and killed Jesse Villanueva, 28, who is survived by a wife and three children, and Peniamina “Ben” Romero, 17, Fresno police officers testified.
Also, a bullet shattered the lower left leg of Romero’s 13-year-old nephew, but he survived. Police testified the nephew managed to get himself to safety inside a friend’s home.
Police investigators said there was more than one witness.
The 13-year-old told police he was sitting in a car with Villaneuva waiting for his uncle when he saw two black men approach Romero. They could hear an argument going on and got out of the car.
The 13-year-old said one of the black men said he was 18 years old, and he saw Sanders shake hands with his uncle and with Villanueva.
Another witness said Sanders told him, “those Hispanic guys are going to jump me.” That witness walked with Sanders to talk with them.
“They made up,” detective Bartlett Ledbetter said. As the witness was turning to leave, he heard gunfire and looked to see Sanders shooting at three people, Ledbetter said.
Police testified that Sanders left the area and was tracked down at his father’s home and arrested.
Hamlin said Sanders is being held on bail of $4.5 million.