Fresnan gets life for killing man during getaway
Dec 21, 2012 (The Fresno Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Forcibly held by two deputies, flanked by another with a Taser and with several other deputies standing by in the Fresno courtroom, an emotional Curtis Travis on Friday was sentenced to state prison -- almost certainly for the rest of his life.
For his role in a robbery that led to a fatal crash early last year, Travis was sentenced to life without possibility of parole on murder, robbery, hit-and-run and auto theft charges. The crash victim was Heliodoro Anthony Ruvalcaba, 50, a janitor who was driving home from work.
At the start of what turned out to be a tense and sad sentencing hearing, the 35-year-old Fresno resident went on an expletive-laden tirade that started with him shouting "take me out of here" to Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kent Hamlin.
Travis' outburst escalated with a second demand to Hamlin that included cussing, expletives hurled at his attorney, Harry Drandell, and claims that Drandell "gave (him) up" to prosecutor Stephen Wright.
As Travis raged, more and more deputies flocked into the courtroom, finally numbering 10. A Taser was produced, ready to be used. Travis lowered his head to the defense table, and he began crying.
"I'm going to prison for the rest of my life for something I didn't do," he said.
But Hamlin -- who remained calm through the entire episode -- said the evidence against Travis was strong, and that he had excellent legal representation from Drandell.
Wright agreed in comments to Hamlin.
"Mr. Travis' outburst this morning was more evidence of his attempt to manipulate the system," Wright said. "I think he's earned every day of the sentence."
Jurors in October had found Travis guilty of murder, robbery, hit-and-run and auto theft. The same jury hung on a murder charge against Stephen Stowers, 24, who was Travis' co-defendant. Stowers was found guilty of robbery and auto theft.
Earlier this month, Stowers was sentenced to six years and eight months in state prison.
Travis and Stowers had been at a friend's apartment at 4111 N. Blythe Ave. about 1 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2011.
A short time later, they forced their way into a nearby apartment where a couple and their children were sleeping. After the man awoke, the two ended up taking a laptop computer, two cell phones, $10 and keys to the man's pickup.
They drove the pickup east on Ashlan Avenue at 60 mph and ran red lights until they plowed into Ruvalcaba's car.
The death still haunts Ruvalcaba's family.
His wife, Isabel Ruvalcaba, was too upset to address Hamlin. Instead, she stood next to a victim advocate, who read her statement. The Ruvalcabas were married almost 25 years, and had planned to renew their vows and "take the honeymoon we never had. And now we'll never get that chance."
Anita Ruvalcaba, his sister, said her brother was an only son surrounded by sisters. She expressed anger at both Stowers and Travis, who while her brother was dying "were all hiding, like the cowards they are."
Travis' sister, Wanda, and his mother, Belinda, painted a different picture, saying Travis was a follower, not a leader.
"I don't want him to live the rest of his life knowing that so many people hate him," Wanda Travis told Hamlin. She asked "those that hate him to forgive him."
Both women were sad and stoic afterward, and embarrassed by Travis' outburst. Belinda Travis said that, as a mother, she did the best she could to raise her son right -- but his bad choices and mental health issues hurt her efforts.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6320, firstname.lastname@example.org or @johnellis24 on Twitter.
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