BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Jeannette Acevez said she often has dreams of being chased or hunted since the day a man walked into a Lamont gas station and killed her father and brother.
That man, Darnell Hammond, 27, was sentenced Friday to life behind bars in an emotional hearing where the victims’ family said the gunman’s poor childhood was no excuse to commit murder.
Hammond faced away from victims’ relatives as they spoke through tears about their loss.
Acevez, 28, wonders who else in her family will die by violence.
“I fear something happening to my family every single day since that day,” Acevez told the court.
She need not worry about Hammond having any further role in her family’s suffering.
Judge John Oglesby, noting the evidence clearly pointed to Hammond, sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Hammond and Jim Langston, 45, were found guilty in September of two counts of murder and robbery for storming into Quality Gas in 2016 and killing the owners as they robbed the business. The jury found the men acted on behalf of the Country Boy Crips street gang.
Heriberto Aceves, 60, and son Juan Luis Aceves, 27, were each shot multiple times.
Surveillance video captured the incident. Two other men participated in the robbery but have not been identified.
The surveillance footage, played at trial, shows masked men enter the business the morning of Oct. 14, 2016. Juan Aceves is forced behind the counter by two men while a third holds Heriberto Aceves at gunpoint.
The men grab items behind the counter and one repeatedly pistol whips Juan Aceves. Heriberto Aceves is then pistol-whipped on the back of the head.
Heriberto Aceves pulls a gun and is shot. It remains unclear whether he or Hammond fired first. Heriberto Aceves continues to hold the gun while on his back as Hammond fires numerous shots. Hammond then points the gun at Juan Aceves, whose shooting happens out of view of the camera.
The robbers flee the business.
Ashley Barbour, Juan Aceves’ wife, told the court she can’t imagine the terror her husband experienced.
Barbour, 28, said she rushed to the store with their three children, at the time 6, 3 and 1, when she heard there had been a shooting. She got a call while driving telling her her husband had died.
Barbour said she tried to maintain her composure for her children. But the pain proved overwhelming.
“I just started screaming,” Barbour said.
She experienced a “living hell” in the weeks and months that followed, Barbour said.
Many days she wanted only to stay in bed and cry. Hours would pass and she’d realize she hadn’t fed her children. She had to remind herself to shower.
Juan Aceves was her life, and Hammond treated him like garbage, Barbour said.
The surveillance video shows Hammond step over Juan Aceves’ body to grab cash “like he was a piece of trash on the floor he didn’t want to step on,” Barbour said.
Hammond was arrested shortly afterward. DNA evidence linked him and Langston to the crime, prosecutor Marcus Cuper said. Langston’s sentencing is set for Nov. 16, and he also faces life behind bars.
“(Hammond’s) DNA was on all the key pieces of evidence that ultimately allowed law enforcement to link him to who we know to be the shooter of both the father and son in the video,” Cuper said.
Although everyone wore masks, each suspect wore different articles of clothing leading investigators to identify Hammond as the gunman, Cuper said. Hammond left a trail of evidence from the gas station to where he was found hiding in a backyard, he said.
The prosecutor acknowledged Hammond had a difficult upbringing and joined a gang early in life, but jurors didn’t find that to be an excuse for his actions.
Hammond had faced the possibility of death, but jurors instead recommended life without parole.
Jury foreperson Sara Moore, who attended sentencing, said outside court there was “overwhelming evidence” of the guilt of Moore and Langston. The defendants’ interviews, DNA evidence and witness testimony led to the verdicts.
When it came to the penalty phase, she said the jurors “saw humanity in Darnell.” His crimes were terrible and preventable, but it appeared the focus of the crime had been robbery and that the men hadn’t entered the gas station intending to kill.
Also, Moore said, Hammond showed some emotion during trial.
“When you see that you have to decide ‘Is the world better off without him? Is there justification for us to take his life too?’ I feel like there are opportunities for him to do good,” Moore said.
Oglesby, the judge, said he sometimes tries to offer words of solace to a victim’s family or provide some explanation as to why a crime occurred. In this case, he said, he’s at a loss.
He said Hammond has denied being a murderer even in the face of staggering evidence.
The judge noted it was ironic that Hammond may have got away if he hadn’t returned to the store and scooped up the blood-stained cash.
As he ran away, Hammond began dropping evidence. He abandoned the gun, his jacket, shoes and a money tray.
But when police found him he still had the bloody dollar bills.
“And I think that shows his true character,” Oglesby said.
“He is a murderer. He is a thief. He is a robber.”