A jury found two California brothers who crashed a wedding reception and later killed the groom guilty of second-degree murder, prosecutors announced Wednesday.
The guilty verdict comes nearly two years after the fatal scuffle early Dec. 15, 2019, when Rony and Josue Castaneda appeared uninvited at the reception for newlywed couple Joe and Esther Melgoza at the family residence in San Bernardino County, near Los Angeles.
Prosecutors believe the brothers lived nearby and overheard the celebration, which included a mariachi band. Guests saw the pair dancing and socializing, authorities said.
The festivities took a tragic turn after the Castaneda brothers were asked to leave and they returned armed with baseball bats. The pair antagonized Melgoza behind the family's home, telling him to jump the fence to their side, prosecutors said.
"Once Melgoza and his family jumped the fence, the brothers began hitting them all with bats and fists," prosecutors wrote in a news release.
A family member took a bat from one of the Castaneda brothers, who fled to an unrelated nearby home. Melgoza pursued them into the yard. Minutes later, the brothers were seen jumping the fence of another unrelated house with a bat that was never recovered.
Responding officers found Melgoza in the yard. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead from blunt force trauma to the head, authorities said.
Josue Castaneda denied being at the celebration. However, upon the brothers' arrest, a photobooth picture was retrieved from his front pocket showing him, his brother and a female guest from the reception.
Sentencing was scheduled for March 13. Lawyers for the brothers could not be immediately identified.
"Although this conviction can never undo the pain caused by two individuals' actions, I hope it brings a measure of closure to the wife and loved ones of Joe Melgoza," said Jason Anderson, the San Bernardino County district attorney.