The California Supreme Court on Monday unanimously upheld the death sentence for a Madera man who committed a double-murder revenge killing with his son in October 1995.
In his appeal, Pedro Rangel Jr., now 68, argued that he didn’t get a fair trial in Madera County Superior Court because many potential Hispanic jurors were excluded from jury selection. He also contended that two jurors should have been disqualified after they told trial Judge John W. DeGroot that they knew but were not close friends with two prosecution witnesses – the mother and brother of victim Chuck Durbin.
In addition, Rangel said one juror was considering a death sentence before hearing any mitigating evidence.
But the high court said in a 54-page ruling that there was no evidence that any racial or ethnic group was systematically excluded from jury selection. The justices also said Rangel’s attorney never objected to the lack of Hispanics during the selection process, therefore Rangel forfeited his claim on appeal.
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Regarding the two jurors who knew Durbin’s relatives, the high court said, DeGroot found no evidence that they would be biased against Rangel.
The justices also ruled that the juror who was leaning toward a death sentence promised to hear mitigating evidence before making a decision whether to recommend death or life in prison without parole.
The high court’s ruling gives a detailed description of the double murder.
The high court’s ruling gives a detailed description of the double murder:
Father and son were known as “Big Pete” and “Little Pete.”
On the night of Oct. 7, 1995, Rangel and his then-23-year-old son, Pedro Rangel III, went to the Madera home of Chuck Durbin to hunt down Juan Uribe. During the elder Rangel’s trial, the prosecution contended that the Rangels held Uribe responsible for a grazing head wound the younger Rangel suffered in an earlier altercation in Madera.
Court records say the younger Rangel said, “What’s up, Juan Uribe? What’s up now?” right before the 23-year-old Uribe was shot multiple times. The elder Rangel shot Durbin, 38, who was trying to protect his wife and three children, ages 7, 6 and 3, from the intruders. Durbin’s wife, Cindy, however, was wounded in the gunfire, court records say. Though the children were uninjured, one of them saw their father get shot, the records said.
After the killings, the elder Rangel asked his stepdaughter’s husband to dispose of a basket containing clothes and weapons. Instead, the man showed police “where the weapons were located,” court records say.
The weapons were a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun, and a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle. Ballistics testing revealed that the .380-caliber bullets found at the crime scene and in the getaway car had been fired from the .380-caliber handgun. All sixteen .22-caliber casings found at the crime scene had been fired from the rifle. The rifle, or a similar weapon, had fired the .22-caliber bullets recovered from Uribe’s and Durbin’s bodies, court records say.
A day after the killings, father and son told others that “they had went and done a shooting” and that “they shot the house up.”
The elder Rangel also told his wife. According to court records, Mary Rangel told her husband: “You’re a murderer. And now my son is one, too.”
The prosecution also introduced evidence that Rangel and his son tried to create an alibi. They went to a convenience store owned by another stepdaughter’s boyfriend. They made a video on the store’s security system to show they were working. The tape was then altered to falsely show they were working at the time of the killings, court records say.
Rangel and his son were tried separately.
Defendant could see from outside Durbin’s house that several people were inside, yet defendant continued with his plan to kill Uribe.
California Supreme Court ruling
A jury in October 1998 found the elder Rangel guilty of two counts of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of multiple murders. A week later, the same jury recommended death.
At his sentencing in February 1999, DeGroot heard arguments to mitigate Rangel’s sentence to life in prison: he had no criminal record, was employed in the community, and had a reputation for helping others. The judge also noted testimony that Rangel had been intoxicated and stumbling the night of the murders.
The judge also heard from Durbin’s mother, Ginger Colwell, who told the judge that her son didn’t deserve to die.
DeGroot said, “Death was warranted” because Rangel didn’t even know the Durbin family.
In its ruling Monday, the high court said: “Substantial evidence supports the jury’s finding that the defendant premeditated Durbin’s murder. The evidence demonstrated defendant and his son armed themselves and went in search of Uribe to kill him. They located Uribe at Durbin’s house. Defendant could see from outside Durbin’s house that several people were inside, yet defendant continued with his plan to kill Uribe.”
Court records say the younger Rangel was convicted of the double murder by a different jury and was sentenced in March 2000 to life in prison. His sentence, however, was later reversed, and in a plea agreement was given a lesser prison sentence. The younger Rangel died in October 2012 at the age of 37. He is buried in Madera at Calvary Cemetery.