Man gets life in prison for homeless camp murder

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SAN DIEGO — A man who murdered a fellow transient by stabbing him, bludgeoning him with a chunk of cement and tossing a burning wooden pallet on top of him at a Grantville homeless encampment was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole .

Sergio Padilla Chavez, 27, was convicted last month of the July 4, 2017, attack on Jose Jesus Hernandez, 63, who died in a hospital about six weeks later.

Jurors convicted him of murder and found true a special circumstance allegation of murder by arson.

Witnesses testified that Chavez and Hernandez had an uncle-nephew type of relationship, but their friendship became contentious when, for unknown reasons, Hernandez claimed he’d killed Chavez’s mother and was glad she was dead. According to Chavez’s attorney, Dalen Duong, Chavez’s mother was killed in a car accident when her son was 8 years old.

Deputy District Attorney Kyle Sutterley said Chavez got into the argument with Hernandez in the evening hours at a homeless camp by the river bottom near 10990 San Diego Mission Road.

The prosecutor said Chavez stabbed Hernandez in the upper body with a pair of scissors and “crushed” the victim’s head with a cement block, causing several skull fractures. He then threw a wooden pallet on top of the unconscious victim and used a makeshift blowtorch and an open flame to set the pallet on fire, causing burns on over 15 percent of Hernandez’s body.

Other transients and good Samaritans pulled the victim from underneath the burning material and called 911, then noticed Chavez standing in a nearby patch of shrubbery. Chavez was holding a small wooden stool in his hand, trying to ward off anyone who got near him, Sutterley said.

Following his arrest, Chavez admitted to a police officer that he’d set Hernandez on fire, investigators said.

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