Technology is key in home invasion trial

FRESNO, Calif.

A complicated trail led investigators from a robbery at a Clovis home to Arizona, with crimes at four other homes in between.

A group of armed men broke into the first home in Feb. 2010, gathered all the victims into one room, and ransacked the house, specifically looking for jewelry and cash.

Later that same day, a group of armed men broke into an Atwater home and pulled an almost identical heist.

"I was watching TV and he came and put a gun to my temple," said home invasion victim Balbir Singh through a Punjabi translator.

Singh described the terror of that night to a jury, saying the invaders seemed to know a lot about his family movement's between their five businesses. The crooks took about $70,000 in cash and jewelry, and threatened to kill everyone in the home.

Crooks with a similar method of operation hit three more homes over the next month -- in Kerman, Selma, and Atwater. But within days of Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims' announcement of a Valley-wide task force to track down the criminals, they caught nine men. All but one were from Arizona.

"Daniel Rivas, the defendant on trial in this case, is an individual who was involved as a planner, as the architect of this home invasion, this series of home invasions," said prosecutor Chris Walsh.

Prosecutors say Rivas scouted homes for hits while working as a landscaper, then recruited Alejandro Rodriguez-Leon, Victor Centeno, and Robert Palofox as part of his home invasion crew.

Witnesses placed three vehicles at the different crime scenes, including Centeno's maroon Suburban and Leon's green Tahoe. But defense attorneys say the proof is weak.

"Evidence will show that Mr. Rivas wasn't identified by any victims," said defense attorney Curtis Sok, who represents Rivas.

"On February 24, 2010, my client, Alejandro Leon, was at his job in Phoenix, Arizona," said defense attorney Mark Siegel.

Singh couldn't identify any of the home invaders in court, but picked Leon out of a lineup shortly after the crime.

Prosecutors are also using cell phone records to prove the defendants were in the Valley -- not Arizona -- as the crimes went down.

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