A Fresno man was sentenced Tuesday to 25 years to life in prison for his role in the killing of his boss who fired him from a mattress manufacturing company.
Rafael Apolinar, 26, said it was never his intention for 29-year-old James Blanco to be killed.
But Superior Court Judge Houry Sanderson told Apolinar he put everything in motion for the killing to happen.
“You took his life,” Sanderson said. “It was a coward’s act.”
You took his life. It was a coward’s act.
Judge Houry Sanderson
In April, a jury found Apolinar guilty of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Blanco, who was shot inside his southeast Fresno home on Alta Avenue near Kings Canyon Road and Fowler Avenue on June 30, 2011. The gunman, armed with a .40-caliber weapon, fired nine times through a bathroom window, striking the victim in the shoulder and back as he took a shower.
But only eight jurors said Apolinar shot Blanco. If all 12 jurors had said Apolinar used a gun to kill Blanco, it would have added 25 years to his prison sentence.
During his trial, Apolinar testified that his friend, Andrew Macias, shot Blanco. But Apolinar admitted he was mad at Blanco for firing him from Pleasant Mattress Co. in Fresno, and said he bought a gun with the intention of shooting Blanco, but not killing him.
Apolinar testified he drove Macias to Blanco’s home. He said Macias sneaked up to the house and killed the victim.
Prosecutor Brian Hutchins told the jury that only Apolinar had motive to kill Blanco because Blanco had fired him for poor performance and a bad attitude about three months before the shooting. In addition, Hutchins said, on the day of the shooting, Apolinar had complained to the victim’s brother, Harvey Blanco, about being treated as a slave, Hutchins said.
Hutchins described the killing as a callous act. While Blanco’s girlfriend and her son slept in the house, Blanco took a shower. The gunman then opened fire, leaving eight shell casings outside the house and one shell casing inside the bathroom. Blanco died at the scene.
I’m sorry. It was never my intention for things to go down the way it happened.
Convicted murderer Rafael Apolinar
But defense attorney Roberto Dulce argued Apolinar had no motive to kill Blanco because he got a better-paying job at a furniture store after he was let go from the mattress factory.
Court records say Macias never was charged with killing Blanco because he talked to sheriff’s detectives and implicated Apolinar as the gunman. Macias was supposed to be a key prosecution witness in the trial, but never showed up to testify.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Sanderson noted for the record that Macias recently was arrested for ignoring his subpoena to testify. She said jail officials released him because of a federal rule that prevents overcrowding. Because of Apolinar’s conviction, there was no need for a hearing to determine what consequences Macias should face for ignoring the subpoena.
In announcing the punishment, Sanderson compared Apolinar’s actions to someone setting up dominoes or a house of cards to fall.
“You sneaked up on him in the dead of the night at his home and he didn’t see it coming,” Sanderson said.
“It was a cruel, unbelievably senseless and violent,” the judge said.
Sanderson told Apolinar that he killed a “good man,” someone loved by his family and friends and the community he served.
Blanco worked for Pleasant Mattress Co. in Fresno for 10 years, rising from an entry-level worker to plant manager overseeing more than 50 employees. He hired Apolinar.
About a dozen family members and friends attended the hearing, including Harvey Blanco. They told the judge that they were raised as Christians.
“I spend a lot of nights in fear,” Harvey Blanco said, who told the judge that he has nightmares about the shooting. “It has caused me to question God and drift from my faith.”
For God to help him, Harvey Blanco said he has to forgive Apolinar. Harvey Blanco then implored Apolinar to seek God’s forgiveness.
Apolinar did not speak at the hearing, but he is remorseful, said Dulce, who read his client’s statement to the judge: “I’m sorry. It was never my intention for things to go down the way it happened.”