“I think I killed him. I think he’s dead.”
Billy Cole said those words inside his Oakley home on the early morning of March 2, 2022, and it turned out he was right. Just seconds earlier, he’d shot 35-year-old Sacramento resident Rommel Hernandez during a heated argument between the two men and Hernandez’s estranged girlfriend, whom Hernandez had been arrested for allegedly beating and threatening days earlier.
The bullet hit Hernandez in the arm and travelled to his chest. He’d reacted with shock then staggered a few feet away before collapsing just outside Cole’s bedroom. That left Cole, 33, and Anastashia Wilfong, 28, alone inside the house together, where they’d remain for the next seven hours until a Contra Costa sheriff’s task force served an unrelated search warrant on the Oakley property. Once inside, deputies stumbled upon Hernandez’s body.
Now, Cole is before a jury in a Martinez courtroom where his trial started Monday, facing murder charges that could send him to prison for life if convicted. His attorney is fighting back by painting Hernandez as an abusive and out-of-control man who shot Cole in the hand with his own gun and shoved him out of the bedroom just a few seconds before Cole fired a bullet through a door that took Hernandez’s life.
The prosecution calls it a cold-blooded killing that came after years of tension and built up resentment between the two men. The defense says Cole used lawful self-defense to protect both himself and the safety of Wilfong, who has already pleaded no contest to accessory and was sentenced to 78 days in jail. Cole’s lawyer told jurors they should expect to hear from her during the trial.
Both sides are making their case using footage captured by an interior camera set up in Cole’s bedroom for security reasons. It was motion activated, and it captured nearly everything: The alleged infidelity, Hernandez’s obsessive attempts to find Wilfong as she hid from him inside Cole’s shower, the shooting of Hernandez, the discussions about a potential cover-up and finally Cole’s horrified realization that the camera had been rolling while all of this went on.
It all started roughly a month earlier, when Cole’s mother died of natural causes and he moved into her and his late father’s Oakley home. Cole and Hernandez had known each other since they were teens, and Hernandez offered for him and Wilfong to come over and help Cole during the difficult time, authorities say.
But on Feb. 25, 2022, things took a darker turn. An AT&T employee was working near Cole’s home, on the 1400 block of Carpenter Road, when he witnessed a man trying to run over a woman with his car, then strike her and attempt to drag her back into a residence by her hair. The worker called police, who arrested Hernandez on suspicion of domestic violence. Wilfong was uncooperative but repeatedly told Hernandez, “I hate you” throughout the incident, Deputy Public Defender Nataniel Johnson-Gottlieb told jurors in his opening statement on Monday.
Hernandez spent four days behind bars in Contra Costa County before he was released without criminal charges. But it was long enough for Cole and Wilfong to form an intimate relationship, though they allegedly fretted over what would happen when Hernandez eventually came back.
That finally occurred on the evening of March 1, 2022. With no vehicle, Hernandez took a bus to East Contra Costa, then made the long walk all the way to Cole’s home. Hernandez’s bagged up belongings had been placed on the front stoop, authorities said. Hernandez ignored them. He apparently had one thing on his mind: Wilfong.
“Where is she?” Hernandez asked Cole, who answered the door shirtless, pistol in hand, while a half-naked Wilfong left Cole’s bed to go hide in his bathroom, according to video recordings played in court Monday.
“She’s not here, she dipped out on the first day,” Cole told Hernandez.
“No man, where is she,” Hernandez replied, his voice rising. He pushed his way inside and spent the next 25 minutes searching not just Cole’s home, but adjacent structures on the property. Finally, he and Cole went to Cole’s bedroom, where the video shows Cole was clearly running out of patience.
“I don’t let people in my room, you know that,” Cole told his friend, before urging him to leave the property. But a few moments later, Hernandez discovered Wilfong hiding from him in the shower. Chaos ensued.
“Billy this is wrong, this is f—-d up,” Hernandez can be heard saying on the video, while Wilfong yells repeatedly for him to, “Get the f— away from me.”
At this point, Cole stopped asking Hernandez to leave and began to tell him, loudly, to “Get the f— out of here.” The two struggle off camera, and it is at this point that Hernandez was able to briefly gain control of the pistol and shoot Cole in the hand — a moment both the defense and prosecution agree on. Cole then got ahold of the pistol and attempted to back Hernandez out of the bedroom, once again triggering the motion-activated sensor in the camera.
But Hernandez, who was much bigger than Cole, shoved him out of the room and slammed the door in his face, then used his body to anchor the door in place as Cole attempted to regain entry. For those few moments, with Hernandez alone in the room with a woman he’d been arrested for allegedly abusing days earlier, Cole told Hernandez, “I’m gonna shoot you right now.”
Then a shot rang out, and Hernandez grabbed his arm, footage shows.
“You got me,” he said. “You shot me, Billy.”
“You dumb motherf—-r,” Billy Cole screamed back. “You’re dead, b—-.”
Cole’s tone shifted, though, when Hernandez stumbled and fell to the ground. He asked Hernandez where he was shot, and when no response came, he realized that Hernandez was dead.
That was at roughly 1:42 a.m. on March 2, 2022. Five minutes later, Cole talked about how he would “whack” Hernandez in “the head with a hatchet” if he somehow woke up, and contemplated getting Hernandez’s body “burnt down to bone,” or buried on the property Deputy District Attorney Jordan Sanders said in his opening statement.
Finally, at 2:51 a.m., Cole stared directly into the camera, apparently remembering it was there. He uttered an expletive, grabbed the device and threw it into some nearby bushes.
That’s where police found it after sunrise that morning, when they came to the property with guns drawn, yelling “police, search warrant.” Cole was still in the home, naked. Prosecutors say he sprayed Hernandez’s body with Febreze and that he and Wilfong had sex just feet away from Hernandez’s body one last time before they were both arrested.
“Someone has been shot back here, I was going to call the police,” a nude Cole allegedly told the deputies who arrested him. “I was trying to call.”
Nate Gartrell www.eastbaytimes.com California News,Latest Headlines,News,Bay Area Crime,East Bay Crime,Homicide,PM report,Regional
2024-01-09 19:07:52 , Brentwood – East Bay Times