Three Sentenced in Murder of Man Whose Body Was Found in City of Walnut

CSI: Coroner

Photo: ranplett / E+ / Getty Images

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Three men were sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of a 21-year-old man whom a prosecutor argued was mistakenly targeted because one of the men wrongly believed an adult daughter of his had been assaulted by the victim.

Stephen Anthony Heard, 55; Johnny Sierra Velasquez, 41; and Jesus Delgado, 49, were convicted Aug. 18 of one count each of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder involving the Aug. 27, 2015, attack in a Claremont apartment on Joshua Rodriguez, who was found dead in Walnut 11 days later.

Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegation of murder while lying in wait, along with an allegation that all three men personally used a firearm and that Heard personally used zip ties.

The panel rejected the special circumstance allegations of murder during the commission of a kidnapping and murder involving the infliction of torture.

Rodriguez, a Pomona resident, was attacked in a Claremont apartment where he had been sleeping. He was found dead with zip ties around his neck and wrists, and an autopsy determined that he had been strangled.

Deputy District Attorney Phil Stirling told jurors that Heard -- a gang member -- recruited other gang members and associates to help him find and attack Rodriguez after getting permission from a prison-based gang to kill Rodriguez -- a member of a separate gang -- in the mistaken belief that the young man had assaulted his daughter.

"Vigilante justice gets it wrong," Stirling said in his closing argument, in which he told jurors that the evidence of intent to kill was "overwhelming."

The prosecutor noted that Heard's daughter told her father before Rodriguez was killed that he was not responsible for the attack on her.

Heard's attorney, Christopher Scherer, told jurors that there was "not a single piece of forensic evidence that ties Mr. Heard to this crime scene," saying that the witnesses being called in the case included a "motley collection" of people who were in a "really bad spot themselves" and "looking to get out of it."

Velasquez's lawyer, Steve Meister, called it a "dad case" and "not a gang case," adding that Velasquez was "not guilty of the crimes he's charged with."

Delgado's attorney, Daniel Nardoni, said his client "did not have any intent to kill Joshua Rodriguez," was not a gang member and didn't even know the victim.

Four other people pleaded guilty or no contest to lesser crimes in exchange for lighter sentences.

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