By Edward Garcia
This past Friday afternoon, the preliminary hearing for Victor Cortes took place. He is accused of attempted 2nd degree robbery of a local convenience store in Yolo, California.
The incident occurred three weeks ago on November 20, 2017, in the early morning. It left the local Yolo Mini Mart store owner injured and scared.
To the surprise of few, the People started the hearing by calling said store owner to the stand.
Under questioning, the owner summarized his duties at the store—he did everything.
Focusing on the case, he admitted to knowing the defendant. Mr. Cortes was a regular customer for eight or nine years, he stated.
During the day of the incident, the store owner recalled unloading groceries from his Toyota Camry when Mr. Cortes came walking toward him. He was yelling, but “I didn’t know what he was saying,” said the owner. Then, the defendant started hitting him.
During this beating, the owner heard, “Give me money, give me money, give me money.” He asked Mr. Cortes why he was doing this, but got no response. Eventually, the owner was able to get up and headed inside his store. “He (Mr. Cortes) took off from there,” stated the store owner.
Following this testimony, the People played the convenience store’s surveillance video for the court, specifically pausing it to point out the hat the store owner was wearing—it was black with a white California logo. The video rest of the video demonstrated the altercation, which matched the store owner’s testimony.
Addressing the video, the owner explained how a punch had broken his glasses and knocked off his hat. He didn’t pick them up. The glasses were discarded and he was in pain from the punches for three to four days, said the owner.
He emphasized, when questioned by the People, that he went inside his store “to protect myself.
“If I stay outside I’m not safe,” he explained.
Once in his store, he called 911. When law enforcement arrived, they took him to identify someone they had detained, which he confirmed as the same man that assaulted him: Mr. Cortes.
During cross-examination, Deputy Public Defender Richard Van Zandt asked if the defendant had ever accused the store owner of overcharging him. “No, never,” replied the owner.
Mr. Van Zant followed this up by asking the owner what—to the best of his recollection—Mr. Cortes said.
“Give me money,” reiterated the owner.
Prior to the incident, the owner clarified that Mr. Cortes had not stopped by the store that morning. The owner had just opened it minutes before. In regard to the cash register, the owner said, it had “400 to 500 dollars in the morning.”
Ending cross-examination, the defense wondered if the owner had ever had a previous argument with Mr. Cortes. “Never argument like this,” stated the store owner.
Judge David Reed excused the owner and asked for the People’s next witness to take the stand. The People brought up an innocent bystander who had witnessed the altercation.
On that day, the witness recalled, he was walking home from the store when the defendant told him “to stop the sheriff officer that went by.” He tried to make contact, but the officer did not see him.
Then, Mr. Cortes came out of his yard and started walking toward the store. The witness said Mr. Cortes told him to “get the f— out of the way.”
It didn’t take long for the witness to hear the argument at the convenience store. When he turned around he saw Mr. Cortes hitting the owner. “He wanted his money,” stated the witness.
The People asked how many times the store owner was hit, to which the witness recalled approximately ten to fifteen times. He yelled at Mr. Cortes to stop.
Mr. Van Zandt, during his cross, wondered if the witness was told why Mr. Cortes wanted him to stop the sheriff’s vehicle. He didn’t say, stated the witness.
When asked about what was said, the witness could not pick out with certainty what the defendant was yelling at the owner. He assumed Mr. Cortes was asking for the owner’s money.
The witness admitted to never seeing Mr. Cortes do something erratic like this before.
Ending his testimony, the defense asked if Mr. Cortes had a hat. The witness stated, “I seen him pick up something.” He wasn’t sure what it was.
The next witness was Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputy Erin Forster. She was the officer who detained, handcuffed, and searched the defendant.
Recalling the incident, Deputy Forster remembered receiving notice of a local robbery, and a few minutes later locating Mr. Cortes—he matched the description given to her.
After detaining him, she noticed blood on her hand so she asked Mr. Cortes if he knew where the blood was from.
“Just f—ed up the store attendant,” he replied.
Ending the People’s direct, Dep. Forster stated the defendant did not have a hat on.
Addressing this statement, Mr. Van Zandt asked if the description of the subject included a hat. “Not that I recall,” replied Dep. Forster.
The last witness of the preliminary hearing was Deputy Brian Young. He responded to the area by first covering Deputy Forster and then attending to the convenience store.
At the store, Deputy Young took statements from the store owner and the innocent bystander who had also testified earlier.
The People inquired about the location of the hat, which Dep. Young explained was found “at the post office.” Fellow officers had located the hat.
As a response to a defense inquiry, Dep. Young clarified that he got to the store “within minutes of the call.” When he arrived, the store was open. In regard to the store’s door, Dep. Young explained it was a glass door with multiple metal bars going down. “Pretty secure,” he stated.
After excusing Dep. Young, Judge Reed gave the floor to the People for one last argument. The prosecution reserved, for the most part, but wanted to orally amend the charges by adding a second count for stealing the store owner’s hat.
In response, the defense made it clear that the suspect was not described with a hat, and he quickly discounted the idea. Mr. Van Zandt stated that he believed the case was properly charged to begin with.
The People disagreed, stating that by taking the hat the defendant was removing the owner of its use.
Ending this argument, Judge Reed determined—using surveillance video—that there was insufficient evidence to add a count for robbery of the hat, but there was sufficient evidence for Count 1: attempted 2nd degree robbery.
Before adjourning for the day, Mr. Van Zandt wondered if a motion for supervised OR would be entertained by the court, given the defendant’s relatively clean record. Since the defendant has failed to appear for pending cases, Judge Reed denied the request.
The arraignment was scheduled for December 22, 2017, at 9 a.m.