A man accused of shooting and killing his pregnant teenage girlfriend and their unborn child was found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder on Wednesday.
"This is a great verdict," said Deputy District Attorney Keith Watanabe following the jury's announcement. "We're pleased that the jury respected the life of an unborn child as well as the defendant’s girlfriend.”
Ruben Cepeda, 22, fatally shot his 18-year-old pregnant girlfriend Viridiana Rodriguez in the stomach on April 7, 2012, in their apartment at 725 N. Fig Street in Escondido.
By the time police arrived at the scene, Cepeda had fled.
Officers discovered Rodriguez inside her apartment, suffering from a gunshot wound to the stomach. She was transported to a hospital, but the young mother-to-be and her unborn baby were pronounced dead about an hour later.
Rodriguez was nearly five months pregnant at the time, and was expecting a baby boy.
Cepeda was eventually captured by authorities in Mexico in June 2012. He had been sought by officials for two months on a $1 million arrest warrant in connection with the double-homicide.
At a preliminary hearing in June 2012, prosecutors said Cepeda claimed the shooting was accident. However, evidence showed the barrel of the gun was pressed directly against the victim’s stomach.
On the day of the shooting, the victim’s sister, Yemely Rodriguez, was in another room inside the apartment.
In an April 2012 interview, Yemely told NBC 7 that the couple was excited, hugging and kissing before the shooting. Yemely later heard a gunshot go off inside the apartment and found her critically wounded sister.
Yemely said that when she found her sister, Cepeda was holding Rodriguez’s stomach. He told Yemely to call 911 and then left the apartment with a friend.
Rodriguez’s cousin, Diana Rodriguez, told investigators that Rodriguez and Cepeda argued over an ex-girlfriend of Cepeda’s with whom he was still allegedly communicating via text messages and Facebook.
Before the fatal shooting, Cepeda had a prior conviction for robbery in 2007, according to court documents. Cepeda was also a documented gang member.
Watanabe says Cepeda faces 80 years to life in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 11.
Following Wednesday's verdict, Watanabe says he spoke with the victim's father, who said the Rodriguez family was pleased with the verdict and thanked the jury for their service.