Man accused of joining others in killing Winchester senior pleads not guilty

MURRIETA (CNS) – One of four men accused of gunning down a 78-year-old
Winchester resident during a home invasion robbery pleaded not guilty today
to first-degree murder and other offenses.

Clifford John Franken, 53, of Hemet is accused with 51-year-old
Matthew Patrick Fromer of Menifee, 46-year-old Kevin Richard Hirsch of Menifee
and Joseph Michael Salvati of killing Robert Bettencourt on March 3.

Along with murder, Franken is charged with robbery, burglary and
special circumstance allegations of killing in the course of a robbery and
killing in the commission of a burglary.

The defendant was arraigned before Riverside County Superior Court
Judge Elaine Kiefer, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for May 15 at
the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta.

Franken is being held without bail at the nearby Byrd Detention Center.

Fromer and Hirsch were arraigned last week, pleading not guilty to
charges identical to Franken’s. Salvati is in custody in another jurisdiction
and is slated to make his initial court appearance on Friday at the Murrieta

He’s charged identically to his co-defendants.

Fromer and Hirsch are being held without bail — Fromer at the Byrd
Detention Center, and Hirsch at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside.

According to Sgt. Ed Baeza of the Riverside County Sheriff’s
Department and court documents, the men allegedly forced their way into
Bettencourt’s house in the 28000 block of Whitaker Street, near Grand Avenue,
sometime on March 3, assaulting and ultimately shooting the victim to death.

The criminal complaint alleges Hirsch was the triggerman.

The victim’s fate remained unknown for three days, until loved ones
contacted sheriff’s officials after unsuccessful attempts to reach him,
prompting deputies to conduct a welfare check, Baeza said.

Bettencourt’s body was discovered inside the house, where indications
of a struggle and forced entry were evident, according to investigators.

Over the ensuing two months, Central Homicide Unit detectives
developed leads that ultimately pointed to the defendants as the alleged
perpetrators, though specific details regarding the investigation weren’t

Court documents show that Franken has a prior conviction for vehicle
theft, while Fromer has a prior felony for driving under the influence of
drugs, and Hirsch has two priors in another jurisdiction that weren’t listed.

Salvati has priors in Riverside County for carjacking and felony
evading, documents indicated. Copyright 2023, City News Service, Inc.

City News Service (CNS)