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Informant Says Pair Confessed to Killing Clerk

Trial: Witness testifies that two Santa Paula men apparently shot woman because she sounded alarm.

October 24, 2000|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Murder defendants Alfredo Hernandez and Jose Castillo confessed to shooting Santa Paula shop owner Mirna Regollar less than an hour after the crime was committed, a police informant testified Monday.

Rene Moreno, 26, who is now in the witness protection program, said that he went to the home of his longtime friend, Jose "Pepe" Castillo, on June 2, 1998, soon after he heard on the scanner what had happened at the market.

Moreno said Castillo and "Freddie" Hernandez, both 22, who was living in Castillo's garage in Santa Paula at the time, told him "they had killed a lady at Junior's Market," and showed him the guns, a .22-caliber revolver and a .32-caliber semiautomatic.

Responding to questions by Deputy Dist. Atty. Don Glynn, Moreno told the jury that the pair said they wanted to rob the market to pay for drugs.

"They were hard up for money, so they went to the store . . . to see if they could get some," Moreno said during the second day of Hernandez's murder trial.

Castillo pleaded guilty in March to planning the robbery and shooting the 25-year-old Regollar at the market she and her husband owned. Castillo is expected to testify against Hernandez today.

Prosecutors say Castillo shot Regollar in the back, and that Hernandez fired the fatal shot into her head.

Hernandez is being tried for murder, attempted robbery and commercial burglary, charges that could bring him life in prison without the possibility of parole.

During his testimony Monday, Moreno recounted what his former friends told him about the shooting.

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Hernandez and Castillo went into the store on Oak Street and saw Regollar stacking shelves in the back, Moreno said. When they told her to go up to the register to get the money, she followed their orders. But then she pressed a silent alarm.

"I guess they shot the lady because she pushed an alarm button," Moreno said.

Moreno added that both Hernandez and Castillo shaved their heads the day of the shooting. "They both wanted to change their appearance," he said. After the two shaved their heads, Moreno said, he then drove them to the Ventura County Government Center so Castillo could put himself on the court's calendar as a possible alibi.

Robert Schwartz, one of the two defense attorneys representing Hernandez, attacked Moreno's credibility throughout his cross-examination. "With all due respect, you're lying through your teeth, aren't you?" he asked the witness.

Moreno shot back, "No, that's your job."

Schwartz confronted Moreno about possible inconsistencies in his testimony: on what time he went to Castillo's house, the size and color of the .22-caliber gun, when Hernandez and Castillo shaved their heads, and what Hernandez was wearing that day.

Moreno admitted lying to the police in the past, but "not in this situation."

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Schwartz also questioned Moreno's truthfulness, saying he cut a deal with the Ventura County district attorney's office. Moreno has a criminal record of his own. And in return for testifying and taping conversations with Castillo and Hernandez, Moreno said representatives in the district attorney's office told him they would try to help him get his sentences reduced in two separate cases.

Moreno was also moved out of Ventura County under the witness protection program, which provided about $1,500 per month for rent, food and other expenses.

While he was wearing a wire, Moreno succeeded in getting Castillo to talk about the shooting of Regollar, he said, but he couldn't do the same with Hernandez. On one occasion, Hernandez called him a rat and hung up on him. On another, Hernandez said he didn't know anything about Regollar's murder.

"He denied everything, didn't he?" Schwartz asked.

"Of course he did," Moreno answered.

In other testimony Monday, Chief Medical Examiner Ronald O'Halloran testified that Regollar had two gunshot wounds--a fatal shot to the head and another to the back.

Testimony is expected to continue today in front of Superior Court Ken Riley at the Ventura County Hall of Justice.

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