In less than two weeks, Saul Hernandez, 35, of Ceres, will be learning his fate as a judge hands down his sentence for the killing of a Modesto teenager nearly three years ago.
Judge Linda McFadden will sentence Hernandez on April 22. He faces a maximum of 50 years to life following the March 24 first-degree murder conviction following a jury trial.
Deputy District Attorney Jeff Mangar said the fatal shooting of Alberto Beraza, 16, occurred because Hernandez believed that the teen had stolen his brother's cell phone on Crowslanding Road in south Modesto earlier on Aug. 22, 2011.
Hernandez's brother his wallet and cell phone were stolen by Norteno gang members who were staging a car wash fundraiser seeking to pay the funeral costs of a murdered known Norteno gang member. The brother reported the theft to Hernandez. Neither Hernandez nor his brother were involved in a gang but Hernandez drove to his Ceres home to fetch his 40 mm Glock handgun and returned to the scene. While driving back to the scene in his white Audi at approximately 5:20 p.m., Hernandez spotted Beraza, who was wearing a red hat and walking by himself. Hernandez and his brother believed that Beraza was involved in the robbery so Hernandez stopped his car to let his brother out to confront the teen. A fist fight immediately ensued and Hernandez's brother was knocked to the ground and kicked in the face, resulting in a broken nose. Mangar said the 35-year-old brother was 5-foot-8 and weighed 160 pounds while Beraza was shorter and weighed less at 5-foot-6 and 135 pounds.
Hernandez retaliated by firing six shots at Beraza, striking him in the shoulder, the arm, twice in the back, once in the head, and once in the face.
Following the fatal attack, Hernandez then drove by the car wash and fired his gun twice into the air in an effort to scare those at the car wash. Witnesses took down a partial license plate number on Hernandez's car.
Prosecutors say Hernandez drove back to Ceres to his home in the area of Blaker Kinser Junior High School where he washed up, changed his clothes, made plans to hide his car, ditched the weapon, and left in a second vehicle.
Hernandez's wife was stopped by police as she was trying to dump his car. But other family members pressured Hernandez to surrender himself so that his other relatives would not be charged with the murder.
Evidence was presented to the jury that, at the time of this murder, Hernandez had been on probation for giving a false name to a police officer and vandalism. Hernandez had kicked the door of a van that belonged to a grocery store manager after the manager had called the police to report Hernandez was selling fake immigration identifications to migrants.
The jury also heard that Hernandez had previously been granted immunity to testify against his uncle in a 2004 murder trial.