Hearing probes killing of Parlier family man

Joel Valera is a suspect in the shooting of Arthur Gomez Jr. in Parlier on March 7, 2014.
Joel Valera is a suspect in the shooting of Arthur Gomez Jr. in Parlier on March 7, 2014. Fresno County Sheriff’s Office

A Fresno County Superior Court hearing that began Tuesday will determine whether a Parlier man should stand trial on a murder charge for shooting his unarmed next-door neighbor — Arthur Gomez Sr., a churchgoing family man with six children and a popular youth football coach in Parlier.

Joel Valera, 38, is accused of shooting the 39-year-old Gomez in front of relatives outside Gomez’s home on Seventh Street near Corto Avenue in the afternoon of March 7, 2014.

A criminal complaint charges him with murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm and lying to police.

A detective testified Tuesday that Valera used a pump-action shotgun to kill Gomez.

If convicted of murder, Valera faces life in prison.

Court records say Valera, who has been in the Fresno County Jail since the killing, spent time in prison after being convicted in Tulare County Superior Court in 1998 of domestic violence and unlawful sex with a minor. Because of the felony conviction, Valera was later deported. It’s unclear when he returned to California.

Gomez, who was born and raised in Parlier and known as “Artie,” had been involved with Parlier’s youth football league for about 20 years. He also volunteered his time helping junior varsity and varsity football teams at Parlier High School.

He is survived by his wife, Debbie, and his six children.

On the day of the shooting, Gomez and his two oldest sons, Arthur Jr., 17, and Jeremiah, 13, and Gomez’s nephew, Anthony Martinez, were getting ready for a weekend church retreat.

It’s unclear what sparked the shooting, but Fresno County sheriff’s deputy Eddie Cantu testified Tuesday that Valera, while handcuffed in the patrol car, blurted out that his neighbors had been harassing him and his family by throwing rocks at them. “They kept messing with me. I had to defend myself,” Valera said, according to Cantu.

But Valera lied about his name and his age, Cantu testified.

“He said his name was Joseph Guttierrez and that he didn’t remember his date of birth,” Gomez testified.

Cantu said Parlier police officer later told him Valera’s name. The deputy said he then verified it by looking at three previous booking mugs of Valera.

On the first day of the preliminary hearing, prosecutor William Terrence called Parlier police Sgt. Thomas Rodriguez, Cantu, and sheriff’s detectives Jesse Gloria and Mark Chapman to the witness stand.

According to Rodriguez, a neighbor saw Valera fire two rounds at Gomez in front of children. After the shooting, the neighbor reported that Valera stared at her and then flipped her off before he ran into his home, Rodriguez testified.

Gloria testified that Artie Jr. and Martinez told him that they also saw Valera shoot Gomez.

According to Gloria, the two witness gave this account:

The confrontation began when Jeremiah told his father that Valera had been staring at him. The elder Gomez then went outside to talk with Valera.

“What’s up?” Gomez said.

“Your kids are throwing trash in my yard,” Valera reportedly said.

“No one is throwing trash in your yard,” Gomez replied.

Valera then raised his shotgun and said, “This is what’s up.” He then fired two rounds at Gomez.

One round struck Gomez in the chest, Gloria testified. The second round was fired as Gomez ran toward the front door of his home.

Chapman testified that detectives later searched Valera’s home and found a loaded shotgun and a loaded .357 revolver.

Terrence plans to wrap up the prosecution case Wednesday by asking pathologist Dr. Venu Gopal to testify about Gomez’s fatal wounds. Judge Hilary Chittick will then decide whether there is enough evidence to order Valera to stand trial.