An Indio man who gunned down his cousin in an ambush outside an apartment complex because he felt that the victim had publicly denigrated him was sentenced today to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
A Riverside jury in April convicted 26-year-old Raymond Hernandez of the 2014 fatal attack on 36-year-old Manuel "Lito" Hernandez of Indio.
After three days of deliberations, jurors found Raymond Hernandez guilty of first-degree murder and recklessly discharging a firearm, as well as found true a special-circumstance allegation of lying in wait, and convicted him of sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations. They acquitted him of two counts of attempted murder.
During a sentencing hearing at the Riverside Hall of Justice Friday, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jerry Yang imposed the term of imprisonment required by law.
According to a trial brief filed by Deputy District Attorney Shea Strand, the defendant became incensed with his cousin on the night of April 10, 2014, after the older man told him to leave an outdoor party, where Raymond Hernandez had engaged in fisticuffs with an attendee over a minor dispute.
The party was being held in the courtyard of Manuel Hernandez's mother's apartment building in the 83-300 block of Avenue 44, court papers stated. Raymond Hernandez and his 16-year-old brother, Joseph Anthony Hernandez, were invited there after leaving a separate get-together on King Street.
During the second party, the defendant tried to obtain alcoholic beverages for himself and his younger brother, but wasn't accommodated and felt demeaned. He challenged a man to a fight, and the individual obliged but proceeded to quickly gain the upper hand, prompting Manuel Hernandez to intervene and order his two younger cousins to leave, according to the brief.
The defendant was furious and told his younger brother, "You can't trust anyone, especially family," the brief said, adding that Raymond Hernandez immediately plotted to exact revenge on the victim.
The defendant went to his pickup truck and obtained a sawed-off .22-caliber rifle, then waited until he spotted Manuel Hernandez go to his vehicle shortly after midnight on April 11, according to the prosecution.
While Joseph Hernandez watched nearby, his older sibling crept up behind the victim until reaching a distance of within four feet, and then leveled the rifle at the man's head.
Unaware that two partygoers were walking to their pickup in the parking lot and looking in his direction, Raymond Hernandez fired a single shot into his cousin's right temple, killing him, according to court papers.
The two witnesses jumped into their pickup and sped away, later alleging that Raymond Hernandez and his younger brother pursued them in the defendant's vehicle, firing multiple rounds from the .22 while chasing the witnesses on streets through Indio.
The two men escaped uninjured and reported what had allegedly happened to police. Jurors did not convict Hernandez of that alleged attack.
Manuel Hernandez's mother discovered his lifeless body when she returned home that night.
Over the ensuing four days, detectives pieced together the chain of events, culminating in the arrests of Raymond and Joseph Hernandez. The latter's case was disposed in juvenile court, and no records were available regarding his sentence.
Raymond Hernandez had no documented prior felony convictions.