Salas brothers receive different fates in Fresno murder case

FRESNO, Calif.

A jury split on Benito and Antonio Salas. They found Benito Salas guilty of two murders, but Antonio Salas will get another trial after the jury couldn't decide whether he was also guilty of the murders.

Benito Salas confessed to shooting and killing two people next door -- a man and his nephew -- and figured that'd keep his brother out of prison. For now, it has, but the Salas brothers could still end up sharing the same fate.

A feud between neighbors erupted in deadly violence in June 2009, in the middle of a graduation celebration. When the ambulances were gone, two men were dead and police arrested Benito and Antonio Salas for the murders. Witnesses say they saw Antonio Salas pull the trigger for the fatal shots.

"I did see him point," said Anabel Vargas, who was at the graduation party. "He aimed and he shot that weapon."

But when the Salas brothers faced murder charges together, Benito took the blame, testifying that he killed Pablo and Jose Mendez to protect a family member. And, he said, his brother never had the gun.

"To the extent that he told the truth, he fell on a sword," said Benito Salas' attorney, Roger Nuttall. "But (only) because people don't always step up to the plate and tell the truth."

Prosecutors argued the Salas brothers planned to take aim at the Mendez family after a series of run-ins.

Police responded to fights between the neighbors several times over the course of six months, including three times in the 24 hours before the deaths.

The jury agreed that Benito Salas was guilty, convicting him on two charges of premeditated murder. But they couldn't agree on whether Antonio Salas also took part, with four of 12 jurors insisting the younger brother was not guilty.

"Very, very upsetting," said Vargas. "(I'm) disappointed. And you know, it's the fact that we have to re-live the whole trial again."

Antonio Salas is set for a new trial in October. Benito Salas is scheduled for sentencing in August, but the only possible sentence is life in prison without parole.

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