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Bernard Vindiola


Convicted of second-degree murder and personal use of a firearm in the commission of the offense, Bernard Vindiola was sentenced to five years to life imprisonment in Fresno County, California, in 1977. Two years later, after the eyewitness testimony at trial came under scrutiny, the California Court of Appeal reversed Bernard Vindiola’s conviction. The defense then learned of a new witness who had provided law enforcement with evidence that Vindiola was innocent, at which point the prosecution dismissed the charges against him.
 
On July 22, 1976, a fight broke out in the Peek-A-Boo bar in Fowler, California, between Christina Vindiola, her sisters Rosie and Elena, and Martina Rocha, who was their brother Eddie’s girlfriend. The bar’s security guard, T.J. McCoy, intervened in the fight and was shot three times and killed. Both Eddie Vindiola and Bernard Vindiola were present at the time of the shooting, and both left before the police arrived.
 
The police questioned witnesses and received physical descriptions and photo and personal identifications from several witnesses. The night of the shooting, Christina Vindiola told police that her brother Eddie had a gun with him and had shot McCoy. On the basis of the witness statements, police arrested Eddie Vindiola on July 25, 1976 but released him soon after. On July 27, 1976, Bernard Vindiola was arrested for McCoy’s murder.
 
At Bernard’s trial, the State presented four eyewitnesses. Prior to the trial, three of these witnesses had failed to identify Bernard in photo and physical lineups and two had instead identified Eddie. At trial, however, three of the four witnesses positively identified Bernard as the man who had shot McCoy. The defense’s case was based on evidence that Eddie Vindiola was the killer, namely the fact that two of the four eyewitnesses had identified Eddie as the shooter in photo and physical police line-ups. On February 24, 1977, Bernard was convicted of second-degree murder and personal use of a firearm in the commission of the offense and sentenced to five years to life imprisonment.
 
On August 8, 1979 the Court of Appeal of California reversed Bernard Vindiola’s conviction. The reversal was based both on the trial court’s admission of hearsay evidence and other inadmissible statements and on concerns about the quality of the eyewitness identifications, with the court noting that “much evidence pointed to Eddie as the killer.”
 
Around the time of the reversal, a new witness, Marla Klemmer, came forward. At that time, Klemmer was in the process of testifying against several members of the prison gang Nuestra Familia, of which Bernard Vindiola was allegedly a member. Klemmer informed law enforcement that she had personal knowledge that Bernard Vindiola was innocent of McCoy’s murder.
 
Prior to Vindiola’s retrial, his attorney, Robert Rainwater, filed a discovery motion to learn the extent of the information that had been provided to law enforcement by Klemmer. Following the filing of this motion, the prosecution dismissed the charges against Vindiola without comment on November 15, 1979.
 
— Researched by Marla Dukler
State:CA
County:Fresno
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1976
Convicted:1977
Exonerated:1979
Sentence:5 years to life
Race:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:21
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID