Nearly two years after a botched burglary and torture incident left “crippling” emotional and physical effects on 60-year-old Gilroy resident Gary Wise, prosecutor Johnene Stebbins with the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office plans on adding another charge that could land the remaining defendants in prison for life without parole if convicted.
“That will be the major charge that they know is hanging over their heads if (the defense) proceed(s),” she said, of the new “kidnapping for ransom, reward or extortion” charge.
The disturbing case stemming from a Feb. 6, 2011 home invasion – when three men brutally assaulted and robbed then 59-year-old Wise – could arrive at a settlement or continue toward a trial, said Stebbins.
“He is a strong man, but this definitely has had a crippling effect on him emotionally and physically,” she said of Wise, who suffered a fractured neck vertebrate, nose and eye socket after being beaten for half an hour. “He still has some significant, physical repercussions that are not going to get any better and not heal...he's still having nightmares and of course is very angry.”
Stebbins refers to the remaining defendants as the “Rucker Four,” in reference to where the incident occurred on the 1000 block of Rucker Avenue just east of U.S. 101.
Six suspects were originally booked into jail May 3 following a string of same-day arrests. One of the suspects was a minor whose name was not released. The other, San Jose resident Danny Rivera, 24; pleaded guilty Dec. 8, 2011 to felony charges of possession of known stolen property over $400 and accessory “after the fact” (assisting a perpetrator after he/she has committed a felony).
The remaining “Rucker Four” includes Morgan Hill resident Norberto Serna, 43; San Jose residents Juan Fonseca, 22; and Ernesto Gonzalez, 26; and Wise's neighbor, 63-year-old Juvenal Reyes.
It was Reyes who initially found out about "two safes and their contents" stored inside Wise's residence.
“Here they were struggling to put food on the table, and there Wise was with numerous riches and large amounts of money,” Reyes complained to his companions, according to police reports.
All four have been charged with conspiracy, attempted murder and torture. The charges carry life sentences with the possibility for parole.
“This is a horrible and terrible case,” said Stebbins. “Just one of the worse crimes that can happen to someone in their own home.”
Graphic court documents outline the unsettling events that took place the evening of Feb. 6, 2011, when Wise arrived home at 9 p.m. and was allegedly ambushed by Gonzalez, Serna and Fonseca.
Police reports say the suspects then tied Wise up, yelled death threats and tortured him in an effort to learn the combination to a safe, pouring chemical substances over Wise’s body and face and beating him with pool cues until he lost consciousness.
Wise was beaten again after he came to, according to court records. Seven hours passed until he was able to free himself and run to the home of his neighbor, who was jarred awake at about 5 a.m. by loud knocking. She opened the back door to see Wise standing on her porch; his head covered in blood and his clothes hanging loosely from his body.
Reports state the suspects also made off with Wise's collections including various guns, stamps, coins and playing cards, in addition to stealing the victim's truck and subsequently abandoning it and setting it on fire near Highways 9 and Highway 35 outside Saratoga.
The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department has since recovered a number of Wise's firearms and valuables, said Stebbins.
What continues to disturb Wise more than his previously ransacked home or stolen possessions is the fact he almost brought his then 7-year-old son home that evening, according to Stebbins. Wise was separated from his wife at the time.
“For the grace of God, Gary didn't bring his son home (that night),” said Stebbins. “That's a recurring nightmare he has.”
Wise has since moved back into his home after he “ripped the whole house apart” and redid everything, including the carpet, floors and furniture, he told the Dispatch in 2011.
Another court hearing took place Thursday in San Jose, where a preliminary examination date was set for 8:45 A.M., Jan. 22 in dept. 24 of the San Jose Hall of Justice.
Deputy Public Defender Javier Rios, who is representing Ernesto Gonzalez, doesn't know if the matter will reach a settlement before that time.
“The charges are very serious, and my client is under enormous pressure to make the best decision under the circumstance,” he said Wednesday. “What my client is trying to assess is whether or not this is the kind of case that should settle or proceed (to preliminary examination). Given the nature of the charges - which are extremely serious - there's a lot of risk on the table.”
While there may be “wiggle room” for the sentences of certain defendants, none are in a position where they'll be able to settle for a “small amount of time,” Stebbins noted. “We're talking 30 years …(Gary) deserves to spend the rest of his life away from these people.”
Stebbins also noted that Wise asked her, “please make sure they do not get out during my lifetime.”
Wise, who in 2011 told the Dispatch that the incident put a tremendous “dent” in his life and that his bad dreams occur “like clockwork” every night, did not return recent calls for comment.
The fate of Juvenal Reyes – Wise's neighbor and the instigator who says he backed out days prior – remains to be seen.
Reyes, who did not partake in the break-in, "grew leery" of suspects Gonzalez and Fonseca over time, fearing they would steal property from him as well, according to police reports. By the time Reyes called his companions and told them "to forget about their plans to commit theft," however, Gonzalez, Fonseca and Serna could not be dissuaded, according to court documents.
Reyes later confronted the three about "why they had to beat up Wise in the manner that they did." He expressed "remorse" for his role in the incident, but maintained "it was only supposed to be a burglary committed under cover of darkness" when Wise was not at home, according to court documents.
Rucker neighbor Darryl Johnson, who previously showed up in court to support Wise, called Reyes the liaison "for all the bad guys from San Jose," adding that the Rucker neighborhood just south of the Masten Avenue exit off Highway 101 was always a safe, nice place "with no problems until Reyes moved in."
Stebbins pointed out that Reyes’ defense lawyer Tammy Miller may ask for a lesser sentence or have some additional arguments on behalf of her client, since Reyes was not present during the crime.
Possible settlements have not been discussed yet, but some “realistic conversations” are taking place between defense lawyers and the prosecution, said Stebbins.
Her bottom line is getting Wise through this nightmare sooner than later. The judicial process isn't kind to victims in the sense they often get called in to provide information, testify, etc., Stebbins noted. If the defense lawyers come to the table with a “big enough” sentence appropriate for the alleged crime, then perhaps the victim can be spared from having to testify, she said.
“The system puts them through the ringer over and over again,” Stebbins explained. “The goal is to get Gary on the other side of this. It's really hard for victims to move beyond it and he needs to start healing. He can't really start that process until we're done with this.”