FRESNO, Calif.-A 21-year-old Visalia, Calif., tire dealer is in the Fresno County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail after allegedly killing two customers in May. Jerry's Tires owner Jerry Rodriguez is scheduled for arraignment June 28th in Fresno County Superior Court on two counts of murder with special circumstances and two counts of robbery.
Fresno County prosecutors allege Mr. Rodriguez shot and killed Daniel Hernandez, 18, and his 19-year-old cousin, Alex Jose Hernandez, after being unable to produce two sets of tires and rims on back order the two had bought weeks earlier.
According to a spokeswoman for defense attorney Charles Rothbaum, the prosecution alleges Mr. Rodriguez decided to kill the two after he was confronted by the victims because the sets of light truck tires had not been delivered and he no longer was able to refund their money. The spokeswoman called the prosecutor's theory ``far-fetched.''
Early in May, the Hernandez cousins each ordered a set of tires and Roadstar rims from Jerry's Tires, according to testimony presented during pretrial hearings. The teenagers allegedly paid a total of $2,000 for the tires over a course of about a week while the merchandise was on order from A*&*A Distributing Co. in Turlock, Calif.
On May 10th, an individual identifying himself as ``Jerry'' told the cousins the tires and rims were available but that the three of them would have to go to Fresno, about 40 miles from their Lindsay home, to pick up the merchandise, according to Fresno County Senior Deputy District Attorney Steve Polacek. The two bodies were later found in an almond orchard near Kingsburg, about halfway between the two cities.
A witness reportedly had seen the three near the field and later heard two gunshots at 8:20 p.m., about two hours after the cousins received the telephone call, Mr. Polacek said. The witness said he saw a pickup truck, later recovered and identified by investigators as belonging to Alex Hernandez, ``speeding'' away from the orchard.
Mr. Rodriguez was arrested May 13th. The murder counts contain the special circumstances of murder with a firearm, murder for financial gain, murder during the commission of a robbery and multiple murders. If found guilty, Mr. Rodriguez, who has no criminal record, faces the death penalty or life imprisonment without the chance of parole as a result of the special circumstances. A trial date has not been set.
Since his arrest, Mr. Rodriguez sold his tire business, according to the spokeswoman from Mr. Rothbaum's office. No other details on the sale were available.