Update: Rocha Jr. found guilty of capital murder, sentenced to life in prison without parole
Updated On: Nov 05 2013 08:21:40 PM CST
A jury has found 22-year-old Pedro Rocha Jr. guilty of capital murder in the Dec. 11, 2009 death of Ronald Philen after breaking into Philen's home to steal marijuana.
He has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Jury deliberation began around 11 a.m. Tuesday. It only took them a little more than an hour to unanimously reach a verdict.
Prior to deliberation, both the state and defense attorneys made their closing arguments.
Assistant District Attorney Sam Moss said the fingerprints on the broken door panel were the most important evidence that connected Rocha to the scene of the crime.
Moss held up two photos of Ronald Philen's body to the jury as he said, "No question about it – this man is dead because these four guys put him in his grave."
Moss admitted the state made a mistake the first time around when they convicted Randall Philen for killing his brother.
"Randall Philen never should've went to the penitentiary," Moss said. "It's been a long road for the Philen family. Say what you want about the Philen brothers. They were men. They were human beings. They didn't live life perfectly, but they didn't deserve to die. Nobody lives this life without mistakes. This trial is an opportunity to correct mistakes and make it right."
As Moss predicted, defense attorney Todd Steele made the same claim he did on Monday – that Randall Philen killed his brother and then staged a break-in. Steele said it was rather odd how the Philen residence wasn’t as disarrayed as it would've been if it was truly ransacked.
"The scene didn't look natural," Steele said. "These kids are looking for a bale of marijuana but didn't bother to open kitchen doors? There were lots of areas which should've been rummaged but were undisturbed.”
"Randall Philen was the only person at the house on Ninth Street when the murder happened and he gave a story. It didn't add up when officers arrived on scene, it didn't add up in trial and it doesn't add up today," Steele added.
Steele also argued that Alex "Lucky" Gil Jr., 23, and Efrain Castillo, 22, two of the men who pled guilty for reduced sentences, were scared into giving false confessions.
District Attorney Micheal Murray said there was no evidence in any testimony of a false confession. He also reminded the jury of Castillo's testimony.
"As Castillo explained, after the door was kicked out, Pedro moved it so no one could see the crime being committed,” Murray said. “Then Alex moved it when they were on the way out and that's how the fingerprints point back to them."
Family members who were present for Rocha's sentencing included his mom and sister, as well as his aunt, uncle and cousin, who were also the parents and sister of Gil Jr.
Rocha's sister, Eva Ozuna, said she thought the jury was a bit harsh in their decision.
"This is huge," Ozuna said. "But the important thing is that we love Pete and he has our full support. Our faith is strong so I just leave it all in God's hands."
A fourth man, Matthew Navarro, 22, allegedly involved in the murder is due in court in January.
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