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Friday, March 22 , 2019, 4:15 pm | Partly Cloudy 60º


Lompoc Man Found Guilty of Murder for Killing Brother

Arturo Herrera, 31, convicted in slaying of Enrique Herrera, 28, in the home they lived west of Lompoc

Arturo Herrera, 31, of Lompoc was found guilty of murder Monday in the beating death of his brother, Enrique Herrera, 28, in July 2016. With him is his attorney, Sydney Bennett. Click to view larger
Arturo Herrera, 31, of Lompoc was found guilty of murder Monday in the beating death of his brother, Enrique Herrera, 28, in July 2016. With him is his attorney, Sydney Bennett. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

After several days of deliberations, a Santa Barbara County Superior Court jury returned a guilty verdict Friday in the case of a Lompoc man charged with murdering his brother more than a year ago after watching violent videos.

The jury of seven men and five women returned to Judge Gustavo Lavayen’s courtroom with the verdict Friday morning after receiving the case against Arturo Herrera, 31, of Lompoc on Monday afternoon. The trial began with opening statements Aug. 17.

In addition to finding him guilty of first-degree murder, jurors determined he used a deadly or dangerous weapon to commit the crime.

Herrera was charged with killing his younger brother, Enrique Herrera, 28, in the rented home they lived in with their mother west of Lompoc. 

Detectives were summoned to the 4300 block of West Ocean Avenue on July 4, 2016, where they found Enrique Herrera had been bludgeoned to death while sleeping in his bed.

“I think the jury came back with the right verdict,” Deputy District Attorney Brandon Jebens said after the verdict. “I think all the evidence shows that Arturo was guilty. Obviously, they took this very seriously when they  deliberated and they worked on it and they came to a right decision.”

As the verdict was read, Deputy Public Defender Sydney Bennett had an arm around her client, who sat stoically as he had during most of the trial.

"On behalf of the entire defense team and the Herrera family, we wish to express our extreme sadness and disappointment in the verdict that was issued today," Bennett said. "While we all have the deepest respect for the American criminal jury system, we believe that the system only works when both our state and federal constitutions are followed.

"The Public Defender is pursuing all avenues of appeal in this case as we firmly believe in Mr. Herrera's innocence. We believe that when a retrial is ordered, a decision will be made that is the result weighing all evidence permitted under our constitution," Bennett added.

Both brothers had served in the U.S. Marine Corps before returning to Lompoc and reportedly had a bad relationship, that included a bar fight a year before Enrique Herrera's death, the prosecution team said.

An autopsy revealed Erique Herrera died of blunt force trauma after having his head bashed between seven and 15 times.

Despite multiple search efforts that involved sending divers into a pond and water tank, plus digging up Vandenberg Air Force Base property adjacent to the ranch, detectives never located the weapon used in the murder. 

Jurors also heard from a jailhouse snitch who recorded a conversation with Herrera, who admitted committing the crime that landed him in jail alone.

As they considered Arturo Herrera’s fate, jurors asked for read-backs of testimony from several witnesses, including family members and a deputy. The judge sent them back at least one time to continue deliberating when they claimed to be divided and unable to unanimously agree before reaching a verdict Friday morning.

Earlier this week, jurors also were told to ignore a courtroom outburst during closing arguments by the Herreras' mother, who said she had told law enforcement officers that someone else killed Enrique. 

Before the jury entered the courtroom Friday morning, Jebens asked the judge to order Martha Herrera to refrain from another outburst.

“When we have verdict obviously it’s going to be a very emotional moment whether it’s not guilty or guilty, I would ask the court to order her to refrain from an outburst in which she might again try to tell the jury that there’s a real killer out there,” Jebens said.

The judge ordered the mother to refrain from making comments,  saying he expected to her to be as calm as possible while noting the difficult situation.

After the verdict was read, Martha Herrera glared at jurors while another woman sitting behind her sobbed.

Despite the mother’s allegation about the real killer, Jebens said outside the courtroom that deputies led by Detective Brian Scott from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, conducted a thorough investigation.

“It’s not true that we didn’t follow through,” Jebens added.

The judge tentatively set Herrera’s sentencing for Oct. 11, but the case returns to court Sept. 20 to discuss setting deadlines related to a possible defense motion, likely seeking a new trial. 

"It is thanks to the hard work of Detective Scott and the entire Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department that the defendant was arrested for this brutal and horrific crime against Enrique," District Attorney Joyce Dudley said. "This successful prosecution was due to the immediate and tireless efforts of Senior Deputy District Attorney Brandon Jebens and his prosecution team."

Arturo Herrera faces a sentence of 26 years to life in state prison. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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