Questioning self-defense claim in Tower District tattoo shop double murder trial

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The claim of self-defense in a double killing at a Tower District tattoo parlor is coming into focus this week.

Cruz Hinojosa has never denied killing Pisa Xayapheth and Jesse Hernandez III at Fresh Ink Tattoo.

He left town and turned off his phone immediately after the July 2018 shooting, but he turned himself in to police the next day.

When Fresno Police Lt. Andre Benson questioned him, Hinojosa said he shot in self-defense when Xayapheth was beating him up, possibly with help from Hernandez.

Benson pushed for a more thorough explanation.

"So you've got your gun out at this point," Lt. Benson said as he questioned his suspect. "You're pointing it at him, correct?"

"Yeah," Hinojosa said.

"And you're telling me you didn't think you could keep your gun up and simply walk out of the tattoo shop?" Lt. Benson said.

"Well, at that moment, I'm already, I'm almost blacking out," Hinojosa said.

Police believe Hinojosa changed his story during questioning.

He eventually said he thought Xayapheth was armed with a gun and would shoot him, but he never saw it.

And the only potential weapon he initially mentioned was a chair.

"He never saw anyone inside the business with a firearm," Lt. Benson said.

"Or anybody else with any weapons, is that correct?" asked prosecutor David Olmos.

"Except for the chair," Lt. Benson said. "He indicated that Pisa was holding a chair."

When Hinojosa left the tattoo shop after the shooting, he didn't know he left behind a surviving witness.

He thought he'd killed a third person, a woman who was in and out of the shop during the fight.

Police had already interviewed her before questioning Hinojosa.

"You know what else she told us?" Lt. Benson told Hinojosa during questioning. "The fight had stopped. Just like you said, the fight had stopped."

"I never said the fight stopped," Hinojosa responded. "I never told you that."

"Were they attacking you when you were going from here to here?" Benson said, referring to positions in the shop.

"Just because I moved from one position to another?" Hinojosa said.

Closing arguments in the case are set to take place next week.

Hinojosa faces life in prison without parole if he's convicted of the two murders and the attempted murder.
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