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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Gang Member Guilty in Woman's Death

Court: The 22-year-old faces life without parole in '98 killing of Mirna Regollar, shot during a holdup attempt at her Santa Paula store.

November 03, 2000|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Santa Paula gang member was found guilty Thursday of shooting a mother of two in the head during a robbery attempt at her store two years ago.

Alfredo Hernandez, 22, faces a life sentence without the possibility of parole for killing Mirna Regollar while he and a friend were trying to rob her family owned convenience store.

After one full day of deliberations, the jury convicted Hernandez of murder, attempted robbery and commercial burglary.

Hernandez, dressed in a dark suit, showed little emotion in the courtroom. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 5.

The 25-year-old Regollar, who was taking nursing classes at Ventura College, was shot and killed June 2, 1998, while she was working at Junior's Market on Oak Street in Santa Paula.

"I'm pleased that the jury could cut through all the emotion and look at the evidence and arrive at what I believe is a just verdict," Deputy Dist. Atty. Don Glynn said.

Glynn said it had been difficult to prove Hernandez was guilty because there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. The prosecution primarily relied on the testimony of accomplice Jose "Pepe" Castillo, who pleaded guilty in March to the slaying.

Castillo, who also faces a life sentence without parole, admitted planning the holdup and shooting the woman in the back. He told authorities and friends that Hernandez fired the first shot at Regollar, hitting her in the head.

Glynn said he was concerned jurors would not believe Castillo, who had avoided a death sentence by admitting guilt and testifying against Hernandez.

"Castillo had a lot to gain by cooperating as a witness," Glynn said. "You had to wonder if he could be trusted. I believed he could."

The prosecution's other key witness was Rene Moreno, a police informant who testified that both Castillo and Hernandez admitted shooting the woman less than an hour after the incident. In exchange for help in reducing the sentences in two of his own felony convictions, Moreno agreed to wear a wire to get statements from his friends. Moreno is now in the Witness Protection Program.

Defense attorney James Farley said he was frustrated by the outcome because he believed Castillo and Moreno both lied about Hernandez's participation. He said he plans to file an appeal.

Farley criticized the prosecution for cutting deals with witnesses and "purchasing" testimony. "If prosecutors go out and buy this kind of evidence, then no one is safe in a trial if they want to get them," he said.

The jury foreman, who declined to give his name, said jurors had trouble deciding whether Castillo was being honest. But they were swayed by Castillo's secretly taped admission to Moreno and his confession to his girlfriend a few days after the shooting, the foreman said.

The foreman also said jurors were convinced by the prosecution argument that Castillo had a motive to tell the truth. "If he slipped up in any way, he faced execution," the foreman said.

"It wasn't an easy decision," he added. "Though there was no physical evidence, we felt confident that he was the one."

Jurors began deliberations Tuesday afternoon, but suspended them Wednesday because one of the jurors had a family emergency. They resumed Thursday morning and returned with the verdict in the afternoon.

Hernandez's mother and stepfather attended parts of the trial, but they were not in the courtroom when the verdict was read. Regollar's husband was not present either.

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