A Camarillo man who claimed he only wanted to scare his wife's onetime boyfriend into repaying $50,000 was convicted of murder Thursday, though he was not at the botched kidnapping that turned deadly.
After deliberating for 1 1/2 days, a jury convicted 38-year-old Jose Vazquez of first-degree murder, attempted kidnapping, burglary and other crimes in the June 1998 slaying of Felipe Arambula. Prosecutors said Vazquez will almost certainly receive life in prison.
Prosecutors had alleged that Vazquez sent two men to Arambula's home to kidnap him because the Ventura restaurateur owed $50,000 to Vazquez's wife, the owner of a Ventura card club whom Arambula dated before she married Vazquez. When Arambula struggled with the intruders, he was shot six times and killed.
In April, William David Hampton Jr., 20, was sentenced by a judge to life in prison for using a gun to commit Arambula's murder. A third suspect, Manuel Vasquez, 21, is believed to have fled the country.
On Thursday, Jose Vazquez wore a dark suit and headphones to hear a Spanish translation of the jury's verdict; when he heard it he lowered his head and shook it slightly. Jurors also found Vazquez guilty of false imprisonment and assault with a stun gun.
During the weeklong trial, Vazquez's attorney, Steven Andrade, argued that his client had hired Hampton and Vasquez only to intimidate Arambula and that the young men decided on their own to shoot him. During the break-in, the intruders held Arambula's wife and children captive for an hour until he returned from work at his downtown Ventura restaurant.
Jose Vazquez had denied any involvement in Arambula's murder and told authorities in two interviews that he knew nothing of a plan to break into the 35-year-old restaurateur's house.
But records from a cellular telephone left at the scene showed that three calls were placed to Vazquez about the time of the killing, including a six-minute call that prosecutors said proved Vazquez's involvement.
Still, prosecutors decided not to pursue the death penalty against Vazquez.
"We couldn't prove that he intended to have anyone killed," Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Simon said Thursday after the verdict.
But California law allows Vazquez to be charged with murder, even though he was not present during the killing, Simon said.
"Even if they don't intend it," Simon said, "[if] somebody gets killed in the process, everybody's responsible."
Because the special circumstances of attempted kidnapping and burglary were attached to the murder charge against Vazquez, Judge Donald Coleman will almost certainly sentence him to life in prison without parole at a hearing scheduled for Aug. 31, Simon said. Until then, Vazquez remains in Ventura County Jail.
As they left the courtroom Thursday, Arambula's father, sisters and other relatives shook hands with prosecutors. Simon said he and Deputy Dist. Atty. Bob Calvert were sure of the verdict before it was announced about 3 p.m.
The panel of seven men and five women had asked Coleman about the special circumstances attached to the murder charge against Vazquez. Jurors are instructed not to consider special circumstances until after they have reached a guilty verdict.