Trial begins for man accused of kidnapping a retired Fresno County official

Trial began Tuesday for a Fresno man accused of terrorizing a retired Fresno County official.
February 11, 2014 5:11:42 PM PST
Trial began Tuesday for a Fresno man accused of terrorizing a retired Fresno County official. Renard Brooks, 27, is facing life in prison in connection with the October kidnapping and robbing of former Environmental Health Director Tim Casagrande.

During opening arguments the defense said it is not arguing the details of the case, but argued Brooks arrest may be a case of mistaken identity.

From an ATM surveillance photo to a fingerprint found on a bus ticket left in the victim's car, prosecutors said they have plenty of evidence linking Brooks to the crime.

Prosecutor Monica Diaz said it all started on the morning of October 7th 2013.

Casagrande had just said goodbye to his wife who was heading to work and getting ready to play a game of golf with his son. An armed intruder then entered his house and darted towards him, shoving Casagrande onto his bed.

"When Mr. Casagrande was face down on the bed, the defendant puts the gun directly to the back of his head and begins telling him don't move, do as I say or I'm going to kill you, and I'm going to shoot you. Mr. Casagrande was terrified," said Diaz.

She said the intruder blindfolded him, tied his hands behind his back with a pair of underwear and socks and began demanding items such as a safe, guns and jewelry.

Diaz said Casagrande agreed because he was falsely told his wife was also kidnapped.

"During the incident, the defendant tells Mr. Casagrande, we've been watching your home since yesterday and we have your wife," said Diaz. "Mr. Casagrande already feels hopeless and now he's not only concerned about his life, but the life of his wife Allison."

The intruder then ransacks each room in the residence, pulling out TV's and loading them into Casagrande's car before driving off.

"The defendant starts placing all of the Casagrande's property into the back of the vehicle, backseat, front seat, trunk, wherever he could fit it. At one point Tim feels a television being placed on top of his body," said Diaz.

Diaz said Brooks then took him to the Union 76 station at Snappy's Food and Liquor in Downtown Fresno, where he used Casagrande's gas card to put fuel in the car. He then took him to an ATM at Fresno County Federal Credit Union where a surveillance camera captured Brooks withdrawing $300 from Casagrande's account.

Diaz said Brooks continued to drive him around Fresno and eventually stopped at two apartment complexes to unload the stolen goods.

"Almost three hours into this incident, the defendant drives into an alley near Bardell and Tower in Southwest Fresno," said Diaz. "Mr. Casagrande was still in the backseat blindfolded, hands tied behind his back. The defendant tells Mr. Casagrande to count to 99 and then you can remove your restraints."

She said Casagrande did as he was told out of fear he and his wife would be hurt. He then drove several blocks, borrowed a cell phone from a passerby and called his wife to confirm whether she was ok. The two then called police.

The investigation then led officers to the bank and a suspect photo was released to the media. At the time, Brooks was on parole for a prior carjacking conviction.

Diaz said friends and family saw the photo on the news and told Brooks he looked like the suspect. She said they urged him to clear his name with his parole officer so he visited the office the following day.

During questioning Detective Barnes also noticed Brooks resembled to the photo, but Brooks told him he spent the day at a friend's house. That friend confirmed his alibi.

Then detectives found evidence that Brooks took a city bus to a stop near Casagrande's home on the morning of the crime. Video caught him boarding the bus in Downtown Fresno and riding to an area several blocks away from the Casagrande residence.

The defense argued the ATM photo was blurry, and later accused detectives of prompting Casagrande and his wife to select Brooks from a six picture police lineup.

"Mr. Casagrande, the evidence will show, never clearly picks out a photo of Mr. Brooks," said Defense Attorney Kathy Marousek. "You'll hear Detective Barnes say; Go ahead and sign this photo here because it most resembles the suspect than the other five."

The defense also questioned whether Casagrande got a good look at the suspect during the few seconds he spotted him in his house.

Prosecutors said, when he was arrested, Brooks was wearing Casagrande's wedding ring on a chain around his neck. He also had his watch in his pocket, but the defense argued Brooks cuts hair for a living and is "paid on the streets."

Brooks fingerprint was also found on a bus ticket during a search of Casagrande's car.

Casagrande is expected to take the stand on Thursday.


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