SJ "Vigilante" Hearing Turns Ugly Outside Court

A fight broke out between the two families outside the courthouse

By Lisa Fernandez and Arturo Santiago
|  Friday, Jan 18, 2013  |  Updated 11:41 PM PDT
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Community members who support a San Jose man who killed a burglar at an apartment complex on New Year's Even rallied Friday afternoon at the Hall of Justice to decry the murder charges filed against a

Community members who support a San Jose man who killed a burglar at an apartment complex on New Year's Even rallied Friday afternoon at the Hall of Justice to decry the murder charges filed against a "hard working soccer dad."And just after the brief court appearance, supporters of the shooter - Luis Ricardo Hernandez - and family members of the slain man - Chris Soriano - got into a fight outside the courthouse.

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Community members who support a San Jose man who killed a suspected burglar at an apartment complex  on New Year's Even rallied Friday afternoon at the Hall of Justice to decry the murder charges filed against a "hard working soccer dad."

And just after the brief court appearance, supporters of the shooter - Luis Ricardo Hernandez - and family members of the slain man - Chris Soriano - got into a fight outside the courthouse. 

Soriano's widow, Carmen Soriano, could be heard yelling, "You killed my husband!" And she talked about how her five children have no father. She also said the family is now homeless.

Fists flew, and Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies ran out to separate the warring families. Two women from each side were said to have gotten physical with each other.

No one was arrested, but deputies let the Hernandez family leave first and then the Soriano family leave.

Emotions have been very high since Dec. 31, when Hernandez was arrested for fatally shooting Soriano.

Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Brian Welch, who supervises the homicide unit, said in a statement on Friday that the "current facts show that at the time of the shooting Mr. Hernandez had no legal excuse or justification for using deadly force on an unarmed man. "

Welch added that Hernandez, who some are now calling the "vigilante custodian," will have an opportunity to defend the charge in court.  Hernandez's case was continued and his next court date is set for Feb. 15.  He has not yet entered a plea.    

Police reports allege Hernandez shot and killed the man he suspected was a serial burglar at the Summer Breeze Apartments.  Police say Hernandez tried to stop Soriano when he spotted him at the complex and detain him until police arrived. That’s when a gun went off.

Records indicate that Hernandez used a gun that was illegally bought. His lawyer, Nelson Mcelmurry told NBC Bay Area on Friday that his client has only one prior conviction; a 2005 misdemeanor for disturbing the peace during a house party. Mcelmurry said he couldn't explain the origins of the gun.

Police reports also show Hernandez was frustrated police were doing nothing about the rash of burglaries at the complex.

According to police, Hernandez's maintenance supervisor noticed a truck pulling into the Lewis Road garage about 9:25 a.m. on Dec. 31 and thought he might have seen it during some previous burglaries there. The supervisor said based on what he felt was inadequate police response to previous calls, he didn't think officers would come, reports indicate. The supervisor talked Hernandez into stopping Soriano until police could arrive. Soriano started to leave, and the gun went off during this escape, reports indicate.

But the reports are not clear on whether Soriano was actively committing a burglary at the time. 

Hernandez's camp feel he was justified. They have created an online petition, trying to raise money for his legal defense and get the murder charge dismissed. About 20 people showed up on Friday in person to demand the same things.

"This young man does NOT deserve life imprisonment for trying to protect his safety and the safety of others from a criminal. He is a good person. He is a great father, a son, and brother," his change.org petition read. As of Friday morning, it had 511 signatures.

Police also say Hernandez was remorseful about the shooting, saying he only wanted to make a citizen's arrest.

“I believe he did something. He just did it the wrong way,” Albert Martinez the grandfather of Hernandez’s son, previously told NBC Bay Area. “I don’t see it as vigilante. I see it as trying to help those that can’t help themselves."

A woman who identified herself as Yareliz Hernandez of San Jose - and who doesn't even know Hernandez - added on the petition's blog: "I truly believe he did this because he was tired of the burglar. I would've done the same. This week my family was victim of burglarized home, completely sad. I would've done the same as Ricardo. I don't even know who this man is but reading this story to know he isn't guilty!"

NBC Bay Area's George Kiriyama talked to the families after things settled down. Both sides said they now fear for their safety. 

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