After more than four days of jury selection, a panel is now learning details of what happened July 4, 2016, when Lompoc resident Enrique Herrera was found dead in his bedroom, and his brother, Arturo Herrera was allegedly to blame.
Arturo Herrera, 31, a former Marine, is tried for the murder of his younger brother. Opening arguments started Thursday afternoon, with Deputy District Attorney Brandon Jebens prosecuting the case, Deputy Public Defender Sydney Bennett representing Herrera, and Judge Gustavo Lavayen presiding.
On July 4, the day of the alleged crime, deputy Joaquin Oliver responded to a call at the 4300 block of West Ocean Avenue in Lompoc. Arturo himself contacted 911 at 1:10 p.m. that day after allegedly "cleaning up the crime scene," according to Jebens.
Oliver entered through the front door, and no one seemed to be home. All doors were closed, including Enrique's and Arturo's rooms. There were no visible signs of forced entry. Their mother had woken up at 6 a.m. and left for work at 9:45 a.m. leaving the two brothers alone in the house.
Oliver's partner arrived for backup and eventually opened Enrique's bedroom door.
"Inside Enrique's room, Deputy Oliver found Enrique, dead in his bed," Jebens said. "Blood spatter is on the wall, to the side of him, on the curtains, on the floor in front of him." A towel had been laid flat on top of his body.
All injuries Enrique sustained were only found on one side of his head, he continued. No defensive wounds were found. He reportedly sustained about seven to 15 blows, and was “basically incapacitated after the first blow,” Jebens added.
Jebens also pointed out the pair got into a fistfight outside a Lompoc bar a year prior and that their relationship had soured since then.
Arturo’s phone was searched, and his browser activity showed that Arturo had been up past 3 a.m., the night before viewing grisly murder, suicide and ISIS killing videos. The only time he wasn't on his phone was on July 4 for a three-hour period between the time his mother left for work and when he called 911.
Lab testing found DNA on a towel, on the surface of the washing machine and shower grout drain, which presumably belonged to the defendant, added Jebens.
In custody, Arturo was surreptitiously placed next to an informant who agreed to secretly record their conversation in exchange for case consideration, according to Jebens. During that hourlong conversation when asked what he was locked up for, Arturo allegedly admitted that he committed the crime and didn't think officials would find the weapon.
Numerous attempts were made to find the alleged weapon on the property, including employing a dive team to search a small pond on the property, and another area near a water tower. K9 officers couldn't detect any trace, and even after getting permission from federal officials to dig, no such weapon turned up.
"That's one thing Arturo says that's true," Jebens said. "We never found the weapon. In the end, evidence will show Arturo was home alone at the time, his mother was at work, he had a poor relationship with his brother, lied to officers, and the DNA linked Arturo to the crime. The evidence will show you, and I'll ask you to return a verdict of guilty."
In her opening statements to jurors, Bennett posed the question her client repeatedly asked police when he was detained: "What happened to my brother?"
"He asked again and again," she said. "You'll be asked that same question: What happened to his brother?"
Bennett gave jurors an overview of the family history. Enrique and Arturo watched their older brother, Daniel, become the first to enlist in the Marines, which inspired the two to also join the military. Arturo joined the Marines while a senior at Lompoc High School, where he graduated in 2003.
Arturo excelled in the military and won several medals, awards, climbed ranks of a lance corporal and sergeant. After being taken off active duty, he came home to Lompoc and took classes at Hancock College before transferring to Cal State Long Beach and received a bachelor's degree in accounting. He was officially discharged in 2010.
However, his brother Enrique didn't fare so well, Bennett said. Hardened by four years of military and affected by post-traumatic stress disorder, he began drinking and ran into trouble. Enrique even lived at the veterans hospital living program in Los Angeles while Arturo took classes at Long Beach.
When Enrique was released from the program, Arturo picked him up, Bennett said. After Arturo took him home, Enrique allegedly continued running into trouble and using substances.
After being convicted of a DUI himself in 2015 before graduation, Arturo decided to come home to Lompoc to live with his brother and mother.
While he was home, "he thought Enrique was the same brother he knew and loved, but something changed," Bennett said. After their fight in 2015, Arturo began staying out of his brother's way to avoid any further confrontations.
"July 4, 2016 ... Arturo wakes up to the sound of their family dog barking," Bennett continued. "The TV is on. He watches a bit, then gets out of bed." Thinking he's alone, he used the bathroom, and started doing laundry. After walking back to his bed, he saw his brother’s door ajar and Enrique's body, with blood all over the wall, according to Bennett.
Arturo then removed the towel that was placed on top of his brother and was unable to get a response. Terrified that someone could be in the house, Arturo left the house and called 911, Bennett said.
"He remembers his training in the Marines, and remains calm," Bennett said, as he waited by the mailbox for first responders to arrive.
"He's not worried about himself," Bennett said. "He keeps asking, 'What happened to my brother?' 'Just give me my brother,' echoing the same concern he had when he picked him from the veterans home just a year ago."
Bennett argued trial testimony will show that a third party's DNA was detected in the maroon towel found in the house that didn't belong to either brother. Experts will further testify that the three residents' DNA is expected to be found all over the house, and that apparent blood found in the shower could have belonged to the boys' mother.
As for the jailhouse informant, Garcia was a known master manipulator who instilled fear and tricked Arturo to negotiate his sentence, according to Bennett.
Regarding the violent videos, that "are viewed by hundreds of thousands of people," Arturo's phone search detected very minimal activity on that website, which he visited "out of boredom and curiosity."
"You'll be asking, who really killed Arturo's brother?" Bennett concluded. "We'll never really know. No one wants to know more than Arturo who killed his brother."
Testimony begins Friday morning at 9 a.m.