Ventura County prosecutors have decided not to seek the death penalty for Alfredo Hernandez, who is accused of fatally shooting a Santa Paula market owner two years ago.
Without elaborating on their reasons, prosecutors said Wednesday they plan to seek a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"We look at the whole case and our goal is to do what is right and what is just," said Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Greg Totten.
Hernandez, 22, of Santa Paula is scheduled to stand trial Sept. 11. He faces charges of murder, burglary and robbery, as well as special allegations that he committed a murder during a June 1998 robbery and burglary. Those allegations had made him eligible for the death penalty.
Hernandez's alleged accomplice, Jose "Pepe" Castillo, 22, is also facing a sentence of life in prison without parole. He pleaded guilty in March to the same crimes to avoid a possible death sentence. As part of a plea agreement, Castillo agreed to testify against Hernandez.
At a preliminary hearing in May, Castillo told a judge that he asked Hernandez, who was living in the garage of his family's home at the time, to help him pull off an armed robbery to get money for drugs.
Castillo testified that he gave Hernandez a loaded .22-caliber revolver and grabbed his own .32-caliber semiautomatic pistol before entering Junior's Market on Oak Street in Santa Paula. He said they ordered co-owner Mirna Regollar, 25, to empty her cash register and she complied.
But Castillo testified that when Regollar reached for a silent alarm button, he and Hernandez shot her. He said Hernandez fired first, hitting the mother of three in the head. Castillo said he then fired, shooting Regollar in the back.
Castillo said they fled the store in opposite directions and met up later to make plans to cover up the crime.
Robert Schwartz, one of two lawyers representing Hernandez, said it would have been "very inconsistent" for the district attorney to seek the death penalty against his client after prosecutors had agreed to drop the death penalty in Castillo's case.
"We are obviously very pleased," Schwartz said of the decision not to seek the death penalty.
In addition to admitting he shot Regollar, who was a nursing student at Ventura College, Castillo has confessed to killing a Ventura teenager in 1993.
"This guy killed two people," Schwartz said. "It wouldn't be fair."
Hernandez is being held without bail at Ventura County's main jail in Ventura. Castillo also remains in custody in an unspecified Ventura County location. He is not expected to be sentenced until after testifying in Hernandez's trial.