Innocent man spent 10 years behind bars
For The Madera Tribune
Madera Attorney Joe Barcroft worked for 10 years to free an innocent man from Folsom Prison. In 1919 he was finally successful.
Justice is blind, so they say, but sometimes she ought to open her eyes like Catilena Belmonte should have done on the night of July 4, 1909, when one of her guests shot another man at her kitchen table. In the midst of all the confusion, loud talk, threats, and finally a pistol shot, one man was left dead on her kitchen floor and one man—the wrong man--went to prison because she said she was sure he had pulled the trigger.
Catilena had come to Madera from Mexico with her husband, Jesus Belmonte, in 1905. He was 33 years old, and she was ten years younger. He got a job on the section gang of the Southern Pacific Railroad and rented a little house in the Millview district of Madera. To help make ends meet, the Belmontes emptied two of their bedrooms and opened up a little boarding house. By 1909, they had three roomers, Constantino Soto, Seferino Verduzco, and his brother Jose.
They all seemed to be one big, happy family until that fateful 4th of July. We don’t know what started the disagreement, but Constantino and Seferino, after a few drinks, found themselves on opposite sides of a vicious argument. When it became obvious that the quarrel was going to get physical, Jesus stepped in to put a stop to it. Seferino ran out the door and Constantino sat down at the table. Catilena, holding 1-year-old Mary, the latest addition to the Belmonte family, sat across from him.
Just as cooler heads began to prevail, in bounded the Verduzco brothers. Jose let it be known that he was going to take his brother’s part, and the shoving began. With Catilena yelling and the kids screaming, someone pulled out a pistol and fired a bullet into Constantino. He fell dead.