California gang member dies while awaiting execution
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — One of three men sentenced to death for slayings during the Nuestra Familia gang’s alleged efforts to take over the drug trade in San Jose has died while awaiting execution, California corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said Tuesday.
Herminio Serna, 53, died late Monday at San Quentin State Prison after he was found unresponsive in his single cell. The death is not being investigated as a homicide or suicide but that it will take an autopsy to determine how he died, Thornton said.
Serna, nicknamed “Spankio,” was sentenced to death by a Santa Clara County jury in 1997 for the murders of Esteban Guzman, Marcos Baca and Sheila Apodaca.
Two other gang members — James “Hueveo” Trujeque, 66, and Bobby “Silent” Lopez Jr., 53 — remain on death row.
Apodaca was Lopez’s lover, who had threatened to tell authorities what she knew about the gang’s involvement in other killings.
All three men were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, robbery, extortion and witness intimidation. Each also was convicted of committing two or three of five murders.
A fourth man, Eddie “Pajaro” Vargas, 55, was also convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit crimes including murder. He is serving a life sentence at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad.
The yearlong trial was one of the costliest in Santa Clara County’s history at $10 million. A prosecutor said then he hoped the convictions would deal “a devastating blow to the gang,” which began in the late 1960s at San Quentin.
Former gang members testified against the defendants in exchange for lesser sentences.
California has not executed anyone since 2006. Since California reinstated capital punishment in 1978, 79 condemned inmates have died from natural causes on the nation’s largest death row, while 25 have killed themselves and 15 have been executed.