Young men convicted in 2014 Coachella murder

INDIO, Calif. - Two Palm Desert residents are slated to be sentenced next month for the murder of a man who had dated the sister of one of the defendants at various points in the years preceding his shooting death outside his Coachella home.

Noel Hernandez and Carlos Martinez, both 22, were convicted late Tuesday afternoon following two days of jury deliberations for the death of 23-year-old Fabian Martinez, the on-again, off-again boyfriend of Hernandez's sister. Both men were convicted of murder, while Martinez was also found guilty 
of assault with a deadly weapon.

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The defendants attacked the victim -- no relation to Carlos Martinez -- outside his Camino Las Brisas home on the night of Oct. 26, 2014, after he got into an argument with Hernandez's sister and refused to let her into his house. Following the argument, Hernandez asked his sibling what was wrong, as 
her eyes were "welling up with tears,'' according to Deputy District Attorney Jacob Silva.

The prosecutor alleged that the pair attacked the victim when he exited the home minutes later. Hernandez put him into a headlock, while his co-defendant pointed an unspecified metal object -- possibly a screwdriver -- at the victim's throat, the prosecutor said.

They demanded to know what he'd said to Hernandez's sister, after which Hernandez produced a 9mm handgun and shot the victim in the head, killing him instantly, Silva alleged. Investigators found him lying in the middle of the street and pronounced him dead at the scene.

The prosecutor said Hernandez's sister ran screaming and crying to the victim, but was pulled away by her brother and shepherded into Carlos Martinez's car, which deputies later found abandoned near the Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella.

Deputies found the gun in bushes near the casino, wrapped in a shirt. Silva said forensics confirmed the gun as the murder weapon, while DNA on the shirt was tied to Hernandez. Footprints in the wash area near the casino were also matched to the defendants and Hernandez's sister, Silva said.

Hernandez's attorney, Mario Rodriguez, said Hernandez was very close with his sister and that her "tumultuous'' relationship with the victim affected him greatly.

Rodriguez pointed to one specific incident during their relationship, in which Fabian Martinez left her alone somewhere following a heated argument. Once alone, Rodriguez said Hernandez's sister was sexually assaulted, for which Hernandez held Fabian Martinez partly responsible.

Rodriguez told the jury that the memory of that incident took hold of Hernandez again on Oct. 26, 2014, with the "anger and humiliation'' of what happened to his sister welling up in him upon seeing her suffering again, making the shooting an act of passion closer to manslaughter than murder.

Carlos Martinez's attorney, Laura Garcia, said her client had no idea that a shooting was going to take place. When the shot was fired, it "shocked'' Carlos Martinez, she said, arguing there was no evidence that he knew his co-defendant had a gun or ever discussed shooting the victim. She also argued that the victim swung at her client during the altercation, which she described as more of a "fight'' than an unprovoked attack.

Garcia said the defendants' flight from the shooting scene was incorrectly interpreted by the prosecution as proof that the pair were conscious of their guilt. She emphasized their ages and said they were "scared boys,'' who ran because they knew they would not be believed by authorities if they
explained that the shooting was inadvertent or an accident. Hernandez was 18 and Martinez was 19 at the time.   

Silva said their youth did not remove them of responsibility, saying the defendants went "from being 18- and 19-year-old boys to 18- and 19-year-old murderers'' the day Fabian Martinez was shot.

The pair are slated to be sentenced on March 15.

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