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Rocky Hernandez

Other Maricopa County Exonerations
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On March 22, 2008, 16-year-old Richard Gonzalez was fatally shot in the head as he stood in the driveway in front of his home in Chandler, Arizona. A friend who lived a few doors away, Reuben Calleros, told police he heard the shots and saw two youths running in opposite directions. He said one was about 12 or 13 years old and the other was “maybe 16.”

On April 28, 2008, 18-year-old Rocky Hernandez was in the Maricopa County Jail on a burglary charge, and he made a telephone call to one of his brothers. During the call, which was recorded, Hernandez said, “And I shouldn’t have shot that fool. I shouldn’t have shot that kid, dude.”

“You really did?” his brother asked.

“Yeah,” Hernandez replied.

“Shut up, fool, shut up,” his brother said.

The call triggered an investigation, during which police questioned numerous acquaintances of Hernandez. On January 28, 2009, Hernandez was indicted on one count of second-degree murder and one count of misconduct involving a weapon.

Hernandez went to trial in March 2010 in Maricopa County Superior Court. Melissa Naranjo testified that on the day of the shooting, Hernandez was at her home and after he left, a gun that was under the couch was missing. She said that Hernandez returned to the house later that day and said he had “smoked somebody, some fool named Ricky.”

Sally Cossio testified that Hernandez came to her home on the night of the shooting and used her telephone. She told the jury she did not remember the contents of the call.

A detective then testified that during an interview with Cossio, she said she heard Hernandez on the call saying, “I had to do it. He got what he deserved. He was talking shit and he owed me money.” The detective said that Cossio also said that Hernandez had showed her a chrome revolver.

Alfredo Lopez-Rodriguez testified that Hernandez admitted to him that he committed the shooting.

A detective testified that Lopez-Rodriguez’s brother, Gabriel, admitted that after the shooting, Hernandez came to his house trying to sell a handgun.

Maria Torres testified that a week after the shooting, Hernandez told her, “I capped that fool. That’s what he gets for being a snitch. I did it in front his house. That’s what happens to snitches.”

Vanessa Romero told the jury that a few days after the shooting, Hernandez tried to give her a gun, saying he had “domed” someone because he was a snitch.

And Timothy Shepler, who met Hernandez when they were both in the Maricopa County Jail, testified that Hernandez said, “I smoked that fool on Easter in front of his house.”

Hernandez testified and denied committing the shooting. He said his statements—particularly the recorded conversation with his brother—were false. He explained that he was bragging to make himself appear tough and impress others.

Calleros, who lived near the shooting, testified he saw the two youths running away and that neither one was Hernandez.

On March 17, 2010, the jury convicted Hernandez of second-degree murder and misconduct with a weapon. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison.

The Arizona Court of Appeals upheld the convictions in September 2011.

In December 2013, Luis Ortiz, who was in prison on a burglary conviction and facing other similar charges, reached out to police. He said that he was present in the driveway when Gonzalez was shot, and that Hernandez was not the gunman.

Ortiz said he went to see Gonzalez that day and was looking at Gonzalez’s car when Apolinar Nevares approached, pulled off his hoodie, and shot Gonzalez. Ortiz said he took off running and heard another gunshot. Shortly after that, when running past an alley, Nevares confronted him, threatening to kill him or members of his family if he told anyone what he had seen.

Ortiz said he went with Nevares to Nevares’s home. There, Nevares took the shell casings from a handgun and flushed them down the toilet. He said Nevares told him he killed Gonzalez for smashing the windshield and cutting the fluid lines on Nevares’s car.

Police then interviewed Hernandez, who denied that he committed shooting. He said he had been high on methamphetamine that day and later had an altercation with an acquaintance named Aldo. Police interviewed Aldo, who confirmed Hernandez’s account. Hernandez's trial defense attorney had not interviewed Aldo or subpoenaed him to testify at the trial.

Police interviewed Hernandez’s sister, who said that she had a child with Nevares and that he had admitted that he shot Gonzalez.

Police administered a voice stress test to Hernandez and said that the results indicated he was truthful when he denied involvement in the shooting. Hernandez agreed to take a polygraph examination and police said the results indicated deception when he denied involvement.

Ortiz also submitted to a polygraph examination about his claims. Police said the results were inconclusive.

Police were unable to locate Nevares.

In June 2015, after the prosecution revealed the results of the re-investigation to the defense, attorney Wendy Mays was appointed to represent him. Ultimately, she filed a post-conviction petition seeking a new trial.

In April 2017, following the testimony of Ortiz at a hearing on the petition, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sally Schneider Duncan concluded that Ortiz was a credible witness. She granted the petition and vacated Hernandez’s convictions.

On May 11, 2017, the prosecution’s motion to dismiss the charges was granted. Hernandez remained in prison on the burglary conviction. He was scheduled to be released on parole in August 2020.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/15/2019
State:Arizona
County:Maricopa
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2008
Convicted:2010
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:19 years
Race:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:18
Contributing Factors:Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No