FRESNO, Calif.-A 23-year-old Visalia, Calif., tire dealer could face the death penalty after a jury found him guilty Dec. 22 of killing two customers in May 1994. Jurors in Fresno County Superior Court were scheduled to decide the fate of former Jerry's Tires owner Jerry Rodriguez after they said he shot and killed Daniel Hernandez, 18, and his 19-year-old cousin, Alex Jose Hernandez.
Mr. Rodriguez was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances and two counts of robbery. Because of the ``special circumstances,'' he will receive either the death penalty or life in prison without the chance of parole.
According to prosecutors, Mr. Rodriguez lured the Hernandez cousins to a field near Kingsburg, Calif., and shot them after they paid him $2,000 for two sets of tires and Roadstar rims.
Defense attorney Charles Rothbaum argued the real killer was a man known as Stanley Michael ``Psycho Mike'' Scala who is in prison on unrelated charges, The Fresno Bee newspaper reported.
A spokeswoman from Mr. Rothbaum's office said he would not comment until the case had ended.
During testimony in his own defense, Mr. Rodriguez said Mr. Scala told him to lure the cousins to the field so Mr. Scala could rob them. Mr. Rodriguez said he feared Mr. Scala would kill him as well if he did not comply, The Fresno Bee reported.
During pre-trial testimony, prosecutors alleged Mr. Rodriguez killed the two men because he could not produce the wheels, which were on backorder 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 20 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.
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, one day after the first set of tires and rims was shipped from A & A Distributing.