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Dispute over crops may have led Fresno farmer to kill his brother

Fresno County sheriff's deputies arrested Norman Vulich on suspicion of killing his brother
Fresno County sheriff’s deputies arrested Norman Vulich, 57, on Oct. 23 on suspicion of killing his older brother, Jerry.
(Fresno County Sheriff’s Office)

Jerry Vulich looked at the expanse of grapevines on his Fresno County farm and thought he could do better.

He started bulldozing the vines so he could plant almonds.

Days later, he was dead, shot by his younger brother, Norman, according to authorities — possibly in a dispute over the grapevines.

Jerry, who at 68 was more than 10 years older than Norman, oversaw the farm about 10 miles outside Fresno, which had been in the family for decades. His younger brother lived in a house on the property, according to court documents.

Jerry had decided to replace 20 to 30 acres of grapes with nuts, said Ty Kharazi, an attorney for Jerry’s wife, Sharon Vulich, and daughters Nicole Vulich-Miller and Crystal Vulich.

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The grapes were becoming too expensive to maintain, according to Kharazi, while nuts would mean much cheaper labor costs.

Norman, who Kharazi said had a history of being “belligerent” with his brother, allegedly took issue with changing the crop.

“There are some witnesses, I don’t know who they are, who heard Norman threaten Jerry days before,” Kharazi said. “’If you touch these grapevines, I’m going to kill you’ — words to that effect.”

Jerry had bulldozed two rows of grapes in preparation for a new bed of almonds a few days before his murder, Kharazi said.

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Around 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 23, Fresno County sheriff’s deputies responded to reports of a possible shooting. They found Norman Vulich walking down the road near West Manning and South West Avenues amid a flat green landscape of crops.

Jerry Vulich was lying on the ground behind a barn, shot to death.

Norman Vulich seemed incoherent, said sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti.

“He could talk but just [didn’t] make a lot of sense,” Botti said. “We asked him direct questions, and you don’t get a straight answer. It’s about something obscure.”

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Norman Vulich was charged with his brother’s murder. Four days later, Jerry Vulich’s wife and daughters filed a wrongful death suit seeking to void Norman’s lifetime interest in the house where he lived.

Without Jerry as the breadwinner, Sharon Vulich plans to sell at least some of the farm and live off the proceeds, the lawsuit said.

“Norman’s action in shooting and killing Jerry Vulich was not in self-defense and he has no other defense for his conduct,” the family’s lawsuit read.

It was unclear whether Norman Vulich had an attorney. He remains in jail with bail set at $1.5 million, according to court records.


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