Deadly Holiday Weekend Crime Spree Goes to Trial

Suspects accused in two killings in two cities

Two El Cajon juries will hear details of a two-day deadly crime spree that happened over Thanksgiving weekend 2006 as the murder trials for two East County men begin.

Samuel Thomas McCauley and Franko Bernal face charges in the shooting death of Daunte Mercado-Bates, 18 , in Murrieta on November 24, 2006. The pair is also accused of shooting two people while robbing a Lemon Grove convenience store on November 25. Andre Villaverde was shot in the face and survived but 54-year old clerk Pedro Hernandez Vargas died from his injuries.

McCauley, 26, and Bernal, 22, will be tried at the same time to separate juries. On Monday, attorneys presented opening statements to McCauley’s jury in El Cajon's courthouse.

The convenience store robbery and shooting was caught on surveillance tape. Along with physical evidence found at the scene, prosecutors told jurors they have admissions by the defendant about his role in the killing. “There is no question that Tommy McCauley, Samuel Thomas McCauley, Jr., is guilty of multiple murders,” said Deputy District Attorney James Romo.

McCauley’s defense attorney said the video doesn't meet the "beyond a reasonable doubt" criteria and suggested Bernal could've been the man in the hooded sweatshirt who pulled the trigger.

“From the video you can see what happened, but from the video you cannot make identification, at least from the face,” said defense attorney John O’Connell.

In a preliminary hearing in May 2007, Villaverde testified about what happened when he went into the 7-Eleven located near the corner of Broadway and Lemon Grove Avenue to buy drinks.

"I was up at the counter, paying for my drinks and talking with the clerk. And then I heard the door open, and, next thing I knew, I was shot in my jaw," Villaverde said at the preliminary hearing.

McCauley and Bernal also face charges in the death of Murrieta teenager Daunte Mercado-Bates.

Mercado-Bates' body was found early the morning of Nov. 24 along a sidewalk east of Whitewood Road in Murrieta according to a published report. Autopsy results showed that he had been shot twice in the upper chest.

Investigators said they were able to connect the crimes, even though they were in different counties, because tests indicated the bullets at each scene had been fired by the same gun according to a report in the North County Times

Bernal faces charges of aiding and abetting for his role in the crimes. Opening statements in Bernal’s trial start Tuesday.

The district attorney's office is pursuing the death penalty in this case.

Contact Us