Despite facing a decades-long prison sentence if convicted in connection to one of Bakersfield’s most high-profile killings, Sebastian Parra doesn’t have a clue why he’s been indicted in the shooting death of a local state prison corrections counselor.
It’s a “little bit terrifying,” Parra said to The Californian during a jailhouse interview last week. But, he’s trying to keep up a good spirit, he said while dressed in orange jail clothing and an orange beaded necklace with a Christian cross pendant.
The gravity of his situation is compounded by Parra’s pleas of innocence: He told The Californian he “didn’t do anything” to kill Wasco state prison counselor Benny Alcala Jr., 43.
The murder happened in a place less likely to experience violence than other parts of Bakersfield and resulted in the loss of a person beloved by hundreds in this community. The August death of Alcala, the father of two boys, near electric charging stations at the southwest Bakersfield Target was unfathomable for many.
And, Parra said, it was unfathomable for him that he would be arrested on suspicion of gunning down Alcala. The Californian has learned conflicting testimony from Parra may explain why prosecutors sought an indictment.
Bakersfield police took a little more than a week after Alcala was killed to announce they were searching for Robert Pernell Roberts, 29, in connection with Alcala’s murder. Roberts was quickly apprehended after police obtained an arrest warrant.
No additional arrests were made in Alcala’s death before Roberts’ preliminary hearing, which is held to show there’s enough evidence supporting charges and a trial is necessary to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a suspect committed a crime. Roberts was bound for trial for first-degree murder and second-degree attempted robbery.
Roberts declined to speak with The Californian.
Parra testified during the preliminary as the prosecution’s key witness to connect Roberts to Alcala’s death. The 23-year-old lived at The Park at River Walk and was on his way to the restroom when he was stopped by Roberts, Parra told The Californian. They struck up a conversation about their life circumstances and then started drinking alcohol together in the park, he testified.
Both men made two trips to the nearby shopping center. The second trip proved to be life-altering for Parra, Roberts and Alcala.
Parra testified during the preliminary hearing that Roberts had talked about returning “back to the ’hood” during their conversations — which was east Bakersfield for Roberts, Parra said during an interview at the Lerdo Justice Facility.
Roberts needed to use the restroom after their drinking, and so he and Parra went to Target, Parra testified at the October preliminary hearing. Alcala was at Target to buy beverages around the same time, according to evidence showed by Deputy District Attorney John Allen at the preliminary hearing.
The two men headed outside Target and that’s when Roberts started walking toward the electric charging stations, Parra told The Californian.
“I didn’t know what his plans were” or his intentions, Parra said of Roberts walking in that direction.
Parra told The Californian he first saw Alcala while the 43-year-old waited for his electric car to finish charging and stood off to the side when Roberts approached Alcala. Maybe Roberts knew Alcala, Parra said.
Alcala began walking away and Roberts followed him, Parra testified. Both men weren’t in sight and were closer to Stockdale Highway when, Parra told a reporter, multiple gunshots — maybe two, if that — rang out.
In court, Parra said he heard a gunshot but saw no muzzle flash.
Frightened, Parra began to walk away and Roberts caught up to him, he said in court. Parra also said to a reporter he didn’t want to question or anger Roberts after hearing the gunshots, so he hung around with him that night.
Parra said during the jailhouse interview he walked away from Roberts later that night, after Roberts had fallen asleep.
A theory may explain why Parra was arrested, he told a reporter — what gun killed Alcala?
Under cross-examination during the preliminary hearing, Parra said he never saw Roberts with a gun nor the shape of one on his person when Alcala died.
But, Parra testified he did own a gun and said it was at the house of a friend who didn’t live in Bakersfield.
Deputy Public Defender Lexi Blythe, who represents Roberts, called upon Parra’s friend Angel Sahagun to testify about this gun. Sahagun said he’d never known Parra to have a gun or ammunition and never saw it stored at his house, according to a motion by Blythe filed in Roberts’ case.
After the preliminary hearing, Parra told a reporter he was interviewed again by police. That’s when officers asked him about the gun, and Parra said he admitted to police he carried a gun with him and it wasn't at his friend's house. He added police never asked him about the gun when he was first interviewed about the incident.
Parra recalled to The Californian leaving his backpack behind when walking to the restroom and first running into Roberts. The backpack is where the gun was stored, Parra said, theorizing that’s how Roberts could have gotten a gun.
But Parra said he didn’t know it was missing until the next day when he opened the backpack to pull out a change of clothes — he said he never opened the bag to see if the firearm was still inside the day Alcala died. He also said he didn’t kill Alcala and carried a gun because he was living on the streets.
“I didn’t commit the crime and didn’t know the weapon was gone until the next day,” Parra said.
It doesn’t make sense to Parra why he’s been arrested — the Centennial High School graduate said he’s cooperated with police and couldn’t read Roberts' mind to know his intentions.
Police also said a phone number associated with Roberts sent a text message saying "I just killed someone" and to turn on the news. Parra denied to a reporter ever physically touching Roberts' phone, and only looked at it for 30 seconds while trying to get on a Wi-Fi hot spot.
Parra explained he didn’t have a steady home because his mother abandoned his seven other siblings to return to her home country of Mexico when Parra was a teenager. His father also wasn’t really in the picture.
So he stayed with family and friends, moving to Los Angeles and Oakland several times throughout his life.
Parra said he never thought talking to a stranger on the streets and “hanging out with the wrong people (like Roberts) could get you into trouble.”