Fresno murder trial testimony gives victim emotional breakthrough

FRESNO, Calif.

Martin Villalobos Hernandez is on trial for the murders of James Rodriguez and Nicole Allen.

Family members tell Action News Joey Rodriguez was dreading his turn on the witness stand. When he was up there, he cried quite a bit, but he also came to an important realization.

Joey Rodriguez rolled into court against his will, forced to talk about the night when a gunman fired a bullet between his sixth and seventh vertebrae, leaving him in a wheelchair. It's a difficult story to tell, and one even Joey's grandmother hadn't heard much about.

"I knew very little about what these kids had seen, but I knew it had to be something very drastic because we practically had to drag Joe," said Sally King, a grandmother to all the victims.

We're not allowed to show you testimony from the courtroom, but Joey said he remembers the guy laughing as he burst into the southwest Fresno apartment.

Joey was the first to be hit. His brother's girlfriend, Nicole Allen, was next. Then there was a struggle.

James Rodriguez covered his brother with a table, and tried to stop the shooter. In the end, the gunman killed both James and Nicole.

Joey was left praying with his sister Lenze, who had fallen down and played dead. Joey thought he would also die. Seven years later, he realized why he didn't.

"He did realize that James gave his life to save Joe's life," King said. "He realizes that now and I think that's kind of a comfort to him."

Prosecutors say confessions to family members will prove Martin Hernandez was the shooter. But neither Joey nor Lenze gave a definitive identification.

Their testimony instead yielded an emotional breakthrough -- a first step towards healing for a family just now understanding the depth of the survivors' pain.

"When they start showing emotions and describing what they have seen, very bad," said King. "Very bad to have to listen to that."

The suspect's family will be next on the stand, starting with his son Thursday. He originally told police his father confessed to the shooting, but the defense says it was a bogus statement, made by an incredibly sleepy 16-year-old.

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