BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
There are two ways of looking at the case of the Guizar-Figueroa brothers.
One would be that Humberto and Vicente Guizar-Figueroa are criminals who terrorized a Bakersfield family and possibly others in Texas and Washington in home invasions targeting pawn shop owners.
The other, the version defense attorney Arturo Revelo believes, is that the brothers are also victims.
Revelo, the attorney for both brothers, said they were forced to commit crimes after their father and sister were kidnapped by the Caballeros Templarios cartel in the Mexican state of Michoacan. Cartel members threatened their relatives' lives if they didn't comply with their demands, Revelo said.
Those alleged demands were robberies to send money to the cartel in order to free the brothers' relatives.
Revelo said the father and sister are now free.
But the brothers -- Humberto Guizar-Figueroa is 27, and his brother 18 -- will be going to jail for a long time.
Tuesday, they pleaded no contest to three counts of assault with a semi-automatic gun on a person. They each face 33 years in prison at their Feb. 28 sentencing.
Revelo said a cartel member known only as "Alex" served as the brothers' handler, providing them with weapons and picking out their targets. "Alex" has yet to be found.
"I'm not entirely sure how the logistics worked, but this guy was always close by," Revelo said.
Prosecutor Courtney Lewis said the evidence does not support Revelo's story. She said home invasions of pawn shop owners was simply the crime the brothers chose to accrue money and valuables. She said there's evidence the Guizar-Figueroas were casing out a particular pawnshop during the week they committed the Bakersfield home invasion.
She said there's also evidence the brothers may have committed home invasions in Yakima, Wash. and Dallas, Texas.
On June 6, 2011, the brothers entered a Rosedale area home in the 2000 block of Willow Brook Street. Kern County sheriff's investigative reports say they held a husband, wife and daughter hostage. Their plan was to take the husband to his pawn shop on Chester Avenue to steal cash and other valuables.
An older couple in the back of the home escaped when they heard the brothers enter, the reports say. They went to the home of a neighbor, who then called 911.
Deputies and a SWAT team swarmed the area. The brothers noticed deputies outside and told the homeowner to go outside and say everything was fine.
The reports say the homeowner walked out the door and kept going after his wife and daughter ran after him. Humberto and Vicente Guizar-Figueroa ran out the back door and were immediately taken into custody.
At the time of their arrest, the brothers gave different stories as to why they committed the crime. Humberto Guizar-Figueroa said his relatives had been threatened and he and his brother were forced to commit the crime, according to the reports.
Vicente Guizar-Figueroa, however, said he and his brother had heard of criminals in their home state of Washington following pawn shop owners to their home and then kidnapping them and forcing them to hand over their valuables. The reports say he told investigators that, in addition to whatever money and valuables they got, they thought it would be exciting.
Lewis, the prosecutor, said she spoke to the victims and they were "OK" with the disposition of the case.
"Thirty-three years is a significant amount of time to plead to," she said.