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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Lawyers Spar Over Witness Credibility in Market Slaying Trial

Courts: Closing arguments focus on use of an admitted killer and a police informant to place Alfredo Hernandez at the Santa Paula store.

October 31, 2000|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An attorney for Santa Paula murder defendant Alfredo Hernandez called the prosecution's two key witnesses liars, saying they were "the most incredulous witnesses that have ever been relied upon in a criminal case."

But the prosecutor said the men--admitted killer Jose "Pepe" Castillo and police informant Rene Moreno--have strong motives to tell the truth, and that their testimony proves that Hernandez shot and killed Santa Paula shop owner Mirna Regollar two years ago.

The comments came Monday during closing arguments that capped a weeklong jury trial before Superior Court Judge Ken Riley. Hernandez, 22, is being tried for murder, attempted robbery and commercial burglary, charges that could bring him life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Regollar, a 25-year-old mother of two, was shot and killed June 2, 1998, while working at Junior's Market, a convenience store her family owned on Oak Street in Santa Paula.

During the trial, Castillo testified that Hernandez came with him to rob the market, and ended up shooting Regollar in the head. Moreno testified that both Castillo and Hernandez admitted less than an hour after the incident that they shot the woman.

Castillo agreed to plead guilty to shooting Regollar and to testify against Hernandez so he could avoid a possible death sentence.

One of Hernandez's defense attorneys, James Farley, said that Castillo cannot be trusted because of his deal with the prosecutors. "This is a bad guy who would do anything to stay out of the death chamber," Farley said.

Farley reminded jurors that Castillo admitted lying to the police and on the witness stand.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Don Glynn, however, said the prosecution's deal with Castillo is contingent on him being honest. Glynn also told jurors to consider what Castillo told others before he entered into an agreement with prosecutors--that he and Hernandez shot Regollar. "He's a cold, heartless, coldblooded killer, but his motive is to tell you the truth," he said.

In addition to telling Moreno, Castillo told his girlfriend and another acquaintance what happened at the market, Glynn said. "For you to find that all these people were lying, that's got to be one heck of a conspiracy," he told jurors.

Glynn recapped his version of the events that occurred on that June morning: Castillo and Hernandez entered the shop about 11 a.m., planning to rob it to pay off a drug debt. Regollar was in the back stocking shelves. They told her to walk to the front of the store and empty the cash register. When Regollar got to the front counter, she pressed a silent alarm button. Hernandez responded by shooting her in the head, and Castillo shot her in the back.

The evidence against Hernandez "all fits together," Glynn said.

"Freddie fits the mold," Glynn told the jury. "Freddie fits this whole scenario. There simply is no one else that fits the bill."

Defense attorney Robert Schwartz, however, said there is no physical evidence linking Hernandez to the slaying. He argued that although Hernandez was living in Castillo's garage at the time, he did not go to the convenience store with his friend that day.

During his closing argument, Schwartz attacked the credibility of Moreno, who agreed to wear a recording device after authorities said they would help him by trying to reduce the sentences on two felony cases against him.

Schwartz said Moreno lied to the jurors about the time he went to Castillo's house after the slaying, and on the size and color of one of the guns used in the shooting. "Rene Moreno wouldn't know the truth if it smacked him in the face," he said.

While wearing a wire, Moreno succeeded in getting Castillo to admit to killing Regollar, but could not get Hernandez to do the same. "What did they get from Freddie?" Schwartz said. "Total denial. Each and every time, Freddie denied having anything to do with the murder."

In trial testimony, prosecution witnesses said they saw two people with dark hair running together from Junior's Market the morning of the shooting. But a defense witness said she noticed that one of the people running from the scene had blond, or blondish hair.

Both the prosecuting and defense attorneys criticized the Santa Paula Police Department for what they said was a shoddy investigation. But Glynn told the jury that its job "isn't to punish the police by letting an obvious murderer go free."

Attorneys plan to conclude their closing arguments this morning, and the jurors are expected to begin deliberations later today.

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