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Gang Member Rearrested in 1998 Slaying of Shopkeeper

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Nearly a year after he was released from jail because of a lack of evidence, a 21-year-old gang member was rearrested Monday and charged in the 1998 slaying of a Santa Paula shopkeeper.

Alfredo “Freddie” Hernandez of Santa Paula, the second suspect in the shooting death of 25-year-old Mirna Regollar, was arrested shortly before noon at his family’s home on Fern Oak Drive in the northern part of the city.

“I feel good because I knew we were on the right track all along. We were always sure he was a suspect,” said Santa Paula Police Chief Bob Gonzales.

Hernandez was charged with murder and two special circumstances of attempted robbery and burglary that make him eligible for the death penalty if convicted, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Don Glynn.

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An arraignment is scheduled this afternoon, and a decision on whether to seek the death penalty will be made within a month, Glynn said. Hernandez was being held on $500,000 bail.

Regollar’s mother, Angela Escobedo, 59, said Monday she was glad Hernandez was back in custody.

“Nothing that happens now will ever bring my daughter back,” she said. “The only thing I want now is for both of them to spend the rest of their lives in jail so that no other mother will ever have to suffer the same way I have.”

Regollar, the mother of two small children, was taking nursing classes at Ventura College and maintaining a 4.0 grade point average.

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Hernandez and his friend and fellow gang member, Jose “Pepe” Castillo, 21, of Santa Paula, are accused of killing Regollar during a botched robbery June 2, 1998, at Junior’s Market, which was owned by the victim and her husband.

Authorities believe both men were armed and shot Regollar before fleeing the market. Regollar was shot once in the back of the head and again as she lay on the ground.

Authorities have searched the suspects’ homes but have not located either gun, Gonzales said.

The killing went unsolved for 10 months before police arrested Castillo and Hernandez in April 1999.

At the time, Castillo was jailed in connection with the Regollar killing and another homicide, that of Jesse Strobel, 17, a Ventura High School athlete who was stabbed to death during a 1993 robbery.

Castillo pleaded guilty in the Strobel case and was sentenced to four years in custody because he was a juvenile at the time of the killing. He has pleaded not guilty in the Regollar case and is scheduled for trial in her slaying in April.

Glynn said Hernandez and Castillo would be tried separately in the Regollar case. He would not comment on whether either suspect would testify against the other.

Although Castillo was charged in the Santa Paula killing, Hernandez was released from jail after a week when prosecutors decided the case against him wasn’t strong enough.

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Prosecutors told detectives to re-interview witnesses and reconfirm their accounts.

Most of the evidence against the men comes from an informant who wore a wire while talking to the suspects about the case before they were arrested. There are also witnesses who saw two men matching the suspects’ descriptions flee the store.

Authorities confirmed that during conversations with the police informant, Castillo spoke about the Regollar shooting and made incriminating remarks about himself but that Hernandez said little about his alleged role.

Chief Gonzales said detectives spent months re-interviewing more than a dozen witnesses, including the informant, to solidify their case.

He said no new evidence was uncovered but that the re-interviewing of witnesses satisfied prosecutors, who gave officers the go-ahead to make the arrest.

While Hernandez was free, Gonzales said the suspect started attending classes at Ventura College.

He didn’t stay clear of the law, however, and was arrested last September in connection with an automobile vandalism case in which a man was stabbed in Santa Paula.

Times staff writer Fred Alvarez contributed to this story

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