A Parlier man will stand trial in the shooting death of his unarmed neighbor, a judge ruled Wednesday in Fresno County Superior Court.
Judge Hilary Chittick made her decision after detectives testified that witnesses saw Joel Valera, 38, use a shotgun to shoot 40-year-old Arthur Gomez Jr. in front of Gomez’s home in March 2014.
Detective Jeffrey Stricker also testified that Valera told him that he knew Gomez was unarmed when he shot him.
But on cross-examination, Stricker told defense attorney Marina Pincus that Valera also told him that he thought the 5-foot-10-inch, 327-pound Gomez and his son and nephew were going to jump him. Valera is 5-foot-6, 200 pounds, jail records show.
Despite Valera’s account of the shooting, Chittick said there was sufficient evidence to order him to stand trial on charges of murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm and lying to police. If convicted of murder, Valera faces life in prison.
The shooting happened on Seventh Street near Corto Avenue in the afternoon of March 7, 2014. Since the killing, Valera has been in the Fresno County Jail.
Court records say Valera 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 Valera returned to California; Stricker testified Wednesday that Valera told him that he had been using an alias of Joseph Guttierez for 10 years before his arrest in connection with Gomez’s slaying.
More than a dozen relatives and friends of Gomez attended the two-day hearing in Chittick’s courtroom. They said Gomez, who was born and raised in Parlier, was known as “Artie” and fondly nicknamed “Pelon,” which is Spanish for “Baldy.” He had been involved with Parlier’s youth football league for about 20 years and also volunteered with the football teams at Parlier High School.
He is survived by his wife, Debbie, and his six children.
Testimony revealed that on the day of the shooting, Gomez and his two oldest sons, Arthur III, then 17, and Jeremiah, 13, and Gomez’s teenage nephew, Anthony Martinez, were getting ready for a weekend church retreat.
On Tuesday, Fresno County sheriff’s deputy Eddie Cantu testified that Valera, while handcuffed in the patrol car, blurted out that his neighbors had been harassing him and his family by throwing objects at him and his family. “They kept messing with me. I had to defend myself,” Valera said, according to Cantu.
Stricker, who spoke with Valera three times after his arrest, gave a similar account Wednesday.
He said Valera told him his neighbors one time threw objects over the fence while he and his family had a barbecue. Another time, Valera contended that he found a wire coat hanger in his yard while he was mowing, Stricker said.
According to Stricker, Valera told him that he kept a shotgun and a .357 revolver handy so he could protect his family from intruders. Valera also told the detective that the guns were registered to his girlfriend.
The confrontation began when one of Gomez’s sons told his father that Valera, who was inside his home, had been staring at him. The elder Gomez then went outside to talk with Valera.
“Your kids are throwing trash in my yard,” Valera reportedly said from the front door of his home.
Gomez, however, told Valera that the accusation wasn’t true, Stricker testified.
According to Stricker, Valera then gave this account:
Valera said he held a shotgun behind his right leg while he spoke with Gomez. When Gomez advanced toward Valera’s property, Valera told him to stop. When Gomez didn’t, Valera said he left his home, leveled the shotgun at Gomez and fired it two or three times.
A small brick fence, bushes and trash cans separated the two men, Stricker said.
According to Stricker, Valera said he knew Gomez and the other people in the front yard were not armed. Stricker also testified that Valera said he was 10 feet from Gomez when he fired the shotgun at Gomez, who never left his own yard.
Dr. Venu Gopal testified that one shotgun blast pierced the right side of Gomez’s chest and damaged a lung, his heart and liver, killing him. Another blast struck the left side of his body. That blast was non-fatal, Gopal said.
After the shooting, Stricker said Valera told him: “I’m not a bad person. It was not supposed to happen this way.”
Valera’s next hearing is June 17, when he will be arraigned on the charges.