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Turlock man killed co-worker over suspected affair

A Turlock man was sentenced to more than three decades in prison for the brutal killing of a Newman man he believed was having an affair with his wife.

Julio Cesar Romero Zaragoza, 52, of Turlock pled guilty to killing Enrique Becerra of Newman on Sept. 17, 2020. Zaragoza believed that Becerra, a co-worker, had been having an affair with his wife, according to the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office. Zaragoza went to his home in the 1900 block of T Street in Newman and waited for Becerra to come outside. Unbeknownst what was waiting for him, Becerra  left his home to go to work and was immediately attacked by Zaragoza.

Zaragoza fired several shots at Becerra, striking him once in the head. Zaragoza then repeatedly struck him on the head with the butt of the handgun. When he lost his grip on the revolver, Zaragoza picked up a metal pole and continued beating Becerra in the head until the victim stopped moving. A subsequent autopsy determined the cause of death to be from a gunshot wound and blunt force trauma to the head.

Newman Police officers responded to the home and found Becerra dead. The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department assisted in the homicide investigation.

For several months the case seemed stalled until Zaragoza’s guilty conscious proved to be too much for him.

On Sept. 19, 2020, Zaragoza called the Merced County Sheriff’s Department telling them he was responsible for the Newman murder and wanted to turn himself in. In the same phone call, Zaragoza told the deputies that his brother, Francisco Hernandez Romero was a participant in the homicide. Romero later pled guilty to a lesser charge, according to the Stanislaus County Superior Court records.

Zaragoza was charged with premeditated murder and having previously been convicted of criminal threats under California’s Three Strikes law which could be used to double his sentence upon conviction. After a preliminary hearing in October of 2022 held Zaragoza to answer for the crime, prosecutors filed enhancements for discharging a gun causing great bodily and the special circumstance of lying in wait, increasing the potential sentence upon conviction to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On Feb. 16, Zaragoza pled to the first-degree murder charge, admitted the enhancement for premedication and deliberation as well as an enhancement for using a firearm causing great bodily injury and having a previous strike conviction for criminal threats. In return, prosecutors dismissed the special circumstance of lying in wait.

Upon accepting his plea, Judge Carrie Stephens found Zaragoza guilty and sentenced him to serve a total term of 75 years-to-life in state prison.