2 suspects in Lufkin shooting death sentenced to probation

Gerardo Renteria (Source: Angelina Country Jail)
Gerardo Renteria (Source: Angelina Country Jail)
Jesus Vela
Jesus Vela

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - After deliberating for several hours, an Angelina County jury sentenced the last two suspects in the Feb. 7, 2012 shooting death of Darnell Bennett Thursday.

Both men received a probated sentence of five years. If Jesus Vela violates the terms of his probation, he will serve a two-year prison sentence in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system and have to pay a $10,000 fine. Gerardo Renteria faces a one-year prison sentence and a fine of $5,000 if he violates his probation.

Judge Paul White will set the terms of the duo's community supervision.

After the sentence was issued, Bennett's mother took the stand to give a statement to the court.

Earlier in the day, it took the jury less than an hour to find Vela and Renteria "not guilty" of murder.

Thursday morning, day two of the jury trial for Vela and Renteria started with closing arguments,

Last February, Vela, Renteria, Osvaldo Hernandez, Rafael Orta, and Jacob Woodard were arrested in connection to Bennett's murder. Lufkin Police detectives believe that the five men went to Bennett's house hoping to rob him of marijuana.

Wednesday, Jesus Vela and Gerardo Renteria pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and not guilty to murder.

Thursday prosecute Katrina Carswell told the jury the men were originally charged with capital murder, but said that she and the defense attorneys agreed capital murder wasn't the right charge, based on the defendants' involvement in the case.

Jesus Vela's defense attorney Al Charanza told the jury, "There is only one proper decision in this case, and that is to find them guilty of criminally negligent homicide."

Charanza said that from the beginning, the defendants tried to do the right thing.

"Vela didn't do anything directly to cause Bennett's death. He didn't encourage it, and he didn't direct it, and he didn't attempt to aid it," Charanza said.

Gerardo Renteria's defense attorney, John Tatum, told jurors, Renteria was scared and out of his element, but once the crime was committed, he cooperated with law enforcement.

Carswell told the jury that the defendants' testimony did help secure two life sentences, "but that doesn't give them a free ride through the system," Carswell said.

Carswell said the defendants are not as responsible as the shooter, Woodard, the planner, Orta, or the driver, Hernandez.

"Should they have tried to step in? Absolutely. But they didn't, but they've come in here and accepted some responsibility by pleading guilty," Carswell said.

Once the guilty verdict was read family, friends and employers of the defendants took the stand as character witnesses

Vela's father took the stand and told the jury his son has always been an example for his younger siblings.

"My son is very obedient and a hard worker I don't have any other words but he's the best," said Vela.

Former teachers described Renteria as a shy and respectful student.

"I believe we all make mistakes in our lives and we all have been in places that we shouldn't have been."

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