By Alana Bleimann and Zahra Abbas
RIVERSIDE – Judge Anthony Villalobos here in Riverside County Superior Court this week found the defendant should stand trial after a preliminary hearing in what the judge called a “very unusual case.”
Two law enforcement officers testified in the case of defendant Rogelio Hernandez Moreno, who was found at the bottom of an embankment shaking and yelling out for help.
Moreno, they said, was clearly struggling with mental health challenges when he was found at the bottom of the embankment, covered in shrubbery and trees, in March of 2019.
In the early hours of the morning, a couple heard an “unknown man” yelling from outside their truck but “they didn’t see anybody else.”
Deputies later located the defendant not far from where the couple’s truck was, at the bottom of a hill in which there were “lots of shrubbery or rocks.”
When describing the height and depth of the hill, the deputy witness claimed that “it’s not like it’s Mt. Everest or anything like that” but instead it was “the bottom of an embankment…it was further out.”
Lying on the ground, said the deputy, Moreno claimed he was having severe back pain. The deputy explained that nothing further was done to make sure the defendant was safe and uninjured before fire personnel came and carried him up the hill.
Moreno claimed, said defense counsel, to have gotten to the bottom of the embankment because he was being followed just a few hours earlier by two people in a truck. These were the same individuals who heard the defendant cry out.
“They were tormenting and teasing,” the defendant had claimed.
No investigation was done to certify Moreno’s claims of torment, but instead, the investigation took a turn and focused on weapons that were found at the scene.
One handgun and a set of ammunition were found along with an AR-15. Both guns were registered in the defendant’s name.
“Law enforcement allowed him to keep the AR-15,” a deputy witnesses revealed.
When questioned about why they would let him keep the weapon, the deputy responded simply that “we don’t have the right to just take a gun from somebody without them committing a crime, so I don’t believe it was taken.”
It was then explained that the couple in the truck, who was allegedly following Moreno, were classified as the victims and were harmed by the defendant.
Deputy Robert Luna, the second witness brought to the stand, revealed that on the night of the incident, he was contacted by the alleged victim. The victim told Luna that there were bullet fragments in the bed of his pick-up truck, as well as bullet casings.
Luna was never asked if the bullet casings matched the guns owned by Hernandez Moreno.
Additionally, the victim claimed that his mother was on the way to pick him up at the scene after the two spoke on the phone. The court was confused as to why his mother would come when his own vehicle was located nearby “in good condition, no damage.”
Law enforcement never reached out to Hernandez Moreno’s mother to clarify if this was in fact true.
The defense team argued that his mother should have been contacted immediately.
The defense team continued saying that “he [Moreno] was not out to harm anyone” and this situation was instigated by the alleged victims, adding that the “court does not know what happened that night” as many concerns were left unanswered.
When addressing the drug use allegations, the defense again argued that there is no evidence supporting the fact that Moreno was under the influence, but it is true that he had a valid prescription for medication.
Additionally, the high heart rate was not a result of the drug use, but rather of the intense situation he found himself in.
The prosecution flipped the table, arguing that there is no evidence that Moreno was being followed and tormented, other than his initial statement, adding that if the victims were provoking the defendant “why did they call 911 after the bullets flew?”
The prosecution noted there is evidence of Moreno’s “very bizarre behavior” that is a direct result of his positive methamphetamine test, which, the DDA said, could cause the defendant to have paranoid delusions and use his “imagination.”
In the end, the shooting could have caused “serious injury or even death” to those who were involved, the prosecution stated and further stated that this instance would not have happened if Hernandez Moreno was taking prescribed medication.
“We know he was under the influence,” the DDA claimed.
After the arguments were presented on both sides, Judge Villalobos stated that this is a “very unusual” case and that the circumstances were “very dangerous.”
He suggested that the couple were not “engaged in anything serious” if they called 911 right after the incident.
Even though many questions were left unanswered and a few involved parties were not contacted, Villalobos ultimately decided to hold Moreno accountable for both counts, setting further pretrial hearings for mid-February of this year.
Alana Bleimann is a junior at the University of San Francisco majoring in Sociology with a minor in Criminal Justice Studies. She is from Raleigh, North Carolina.
Zahra Abbas is a 3rd year Political Science major and Film minor at UC Davis. She is from San Jose, California.
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