Fresno's #2 auto thief convicted of murder

FRESNO, Calif.

A jury found Tino Tufono guilty of second degree murder Wednesday for a shooting at a flop house in Dec. 2011.

Tufono testified that Jacob Ramirez tried to stab him with a pizza cutter, so he pulled a gun from his pocket and shot. But that pizza cutter was found underneath a pile of other stuff -- just one of several reasons jurors had to doubt Tufono's story.

A work of fiction sat on the table in front of Tino Tufono as he waited to hear his fate.

"Skipping Christmas" was a change of pace for John Grisham, away from the legal dramas for which he was so well known.

Tufono's own legal drama also took him away from his claim to fame. Fresno's number two auto thief stood accused of murdering Jacob Ramirez. He claimed self-defense.

"You know, he felt he needed to shoot Mr. Ramirez to save himself," said Tufono's defense attorney Antonio Alvarez. "I think he believes that to this day."

But the jury believed Tufono's story was also a work of fiction. On the witness stand last week, he claimed Ramirez tried to rob him. But other witnesses told a different story. Theirs painted Tufono as the villain who shot Ramirez out of jealousy over meth, then tried to cover up the evidence.

"Was it reasonable for him to feel threatened?" Alvarez asked. "Was it reasonable for him to use the firearm the way he did? And the jury came back with an answer. The answer was no."

Ramirez's family honored his memory with their own answer -- a t-shirt to make sure he's never forgotten. They didn't want to talk on camera before leaving, but told me they're glad to know the jury saw through the fictional story.

Tufono could only shake his head as the guilty verdict came down, and then again as he picked up his book and got back to reading.

"He's disappointed," Alvarez said. "He's clearly disappointed. He was hoping his actions of Dec. 6 would be vindicated by the court system."

Instead, Tufono will get a life sentence with about 50 years of skipped Christmases before any parole hearing. The 32-year-old asked the judge to sentence him to prison right away, but she'll wait until April.

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