Wednesday, 29 May 2024

REGIONAL: Southern California man sentenced for home invasion, assault

MENDOCINO COUNTY – On Friday a Southern California man was sentenced to more htan 30 years in prison for a home invasion robbery and assault case that authorities allege was motivated by plans to steal marijuana.

Thirty-three-year-old Long Beach resident Juan Octavio Fernandez, also known as Angel Morales-Orellana, was sentenced to 30 years and eight months to life by Judge Richard Henderson, according to the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office.

He was charged with home invasion robbery, aggravated kidnapping for robbery and 11 other felonies and 13 special allegations.

Fernandez was convicted after a week and a half trial by a seven-woman, five-man jury, which reached its verdict at the end of the second day of deliberations, officials reported. Deputy District Attorney Brian Newman, with attorney Paul Lozada representing Fernandez.

In early January of 2008, Fernandez and six other men allegedly invaded a Branscomb home. The men, some of whom were wearing masks tied up the homeowner and imprisoned his wife and two small children in a bedroom while they ransacked the house.

When there were unable to find any money or marijuana they began to torture the man using an electronic stun gun, blows to the head, and even stabbed him with a fork.

It was only when he was threatened with a gun that the homeowner agreed to show them where the money was hidden. Three of the men, including Fernandez took the homeowner to a location about a half-mile away where the money was found hidden in a stump. On the way they had to cross a rain swollen creek via a makeshift bridge.

Once they had the money the robbers took virtually everything of value from the house and fled in two vehicles. Before fleeing they gagged the homeowner and his wife and duct-taped them to two chairs. They locked the children, ages 2 and 6, in the bathroom. The homeowner was able to free himself and alert law enforcement.

Mendocino County Sheriff’s deputies located Fernandez driving one of the getaway vehicles just north of Ukiah and began to the chase. After stopping initially at the West Road overcrossing, Fernandez and the other men fled south on highway 101 at speeds of over 90 miles per hour.

California Highway Patrol officers joined the chase and deployed a spike strip on the freeway at Gobbi street. Fernandez avoided the spike strip and then took the Talmage exit.

During the chase the firearm, stun gun and other evidence were thrown out of the vehicle. The chase continued on the back roads to Hopland where Fernandez ran over a second spike strip. The chase did not end until reaching the Mendocino-Sonoma county line. Fernandez was the driver and the vehicle was full of property taken from the home, and more than $37,000 in cash.

Seven men are known to have participated in the robbery. Johan Espinosa, age 26 of Long Beach, has entered a guilty plea to seven felonies and admitted one special allegation. He is awaiting sentencing and faces up to 15 years in state prison.

Ruben Salazar, age 42 of Long Beach, also entered a guilty plea to seven felonies and admitted one special allegation. He has been sentenced to 15 years in state prison.

Ryan Whitman, age 35 of Fort Bragg, entered guilty pleas to two felonies and has been sentenced to 11 years in State Prison.

Anthony Melendez, age 44 of Los Angeles, has his case set for trial to begin May 3. Law enforcement is still seeking the remaining two men.

District Attorney Meredith Lintott said this kind of violent crime stems from marijuana production – five of the seven men involved traveled here for no other reason than to commit a violent robbery of a person they believed to be a marijuana grower.

Lintott said she intends that every person who comes to this county and commits a violent crime will face the full punishment allowed by law.

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