Jurors on Tuesday recommended the death penalty for a man who orchestrated the killings of three people within several weeks in 2009.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated 67 minutes before returning its verdict against Robert Louis Caballero, 37, who was convicted Aug. 14 of first-degree murder for the Sept. 29, 2009, shooting death of Armando Vidana of Pomona, the Nov. 5, 2009, strangulation of Lorraine Minjarez of Covina and the Nov. 6, 2009, bludgeoning death of his cousin, David Padilla, of El Monte.
Caballero was also convicted of two counts of kidnapping, and one count each of assault with a firearm, possession of a firearm by a felon and evading an officer.
Jurors found true gang and gun allegations, along with special circumstance allegations of lying in wait, murder during the course of a kidnapping and multiple murders.
About 18 Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were in court for the verdict, with two positioned directly behind Caballero.
During closing arguments Monday in the trial’s penalty phase, Deputy District Attorney Sarika Kim reminded jurors of the gruesome nature of Caballero’s crimes, noting that he made Minjarez “sit and listen as her grave was being dug.”
The 32-year-old woman’s body was found in the Angeles National Forest along Mount Baldy Road. The prosecutor told jurors that Caballero lured Minjarez to a car in a “cold and callous way,” gathered what he needed to kill her, forced her to hike to her gravesite, tightened a rope around her neck as she struggled to breathe and then directed co-defendant Pete Trejo Jr. to bury her body.
Padilla, 29, was bludgeoned and strangled and was found near the Union Pacific railroad tracks near Walnut Avenue in Chino. According to the prosecution, Caballero ordered co-defendant Andrew Valenzuela to strangle Padilla because he had decided he didn’t trust him any longer.
Caballero was arrested in November 2009 after a police chase that ended in a crash in Montclair.
At the time, authorities said he was wanted on a warrant stemming from the killing of Vidana, a gang rival who was shot to death.
“His past behavior is the best indicator of his future behavior,” the prosecutor told jurors in arguing for a death sentence.
The defense countered that Caballero had been “born into the gang” and raised by a heroin-addicted father who beat his children with hangers and cords.
Sentencing is set for Nov. 13. Judge Ronald S. Coen will consider whether to go along with the jury’s recommendation of the death penalty, along with an automatic motion to reduce the death sentence recommendation to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Trejo, 32, and Valenzuela, 24, are each facing life in prison without the possibility of parole when sentenced Oct. 3. Trejo was convicted of first- degree murder and kidnapping in connection with Minjarez’s death, while Valenzuela was convicted of first-degree murder and kidnapping involving Padilla’s death.
— City News Service