An investigator testified in a preliminary hearing Tuesday that creating fear and intimidating a rival gang member was the motivation behind a brazen daylight shooting that killed a 19-year-old man last year in Modesto's airport neighborhood.
Juvenal Rodriguez of Modesto and a friend were walking in the 1400 block of Monterey Avenue near Orville Wright Elementary School about 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 21, 2011, when a group of people in a car spotted them.
Guillermo Rivera, who was driving the car, recognized Rodriguez from when they were in custody at Stanislaus County Juvenile Hall, Modesto police Detective Ra Pouv said on the witness stand Tuesday.
"He recognized Rodriguez as a rival gang member," Pouv testified.
Rodriguez was a Sureño gang member walking in a neighborhood considered to be rival Norteño gang turf, said Pouv, a gang investigator. He said Rivera was a Norteño who felt disrespected seeing an enemy in his neighborhood.
Pouv testified that Rivera made a U-turn and approached Rodriguez and his friend when Raul Sanchez asked them "Do you bang?" It's a reference to gang banging.
"It's basically a verbal challenge," Pouv testified.
Norteño gang slogans were shouted from the car. Authorities say the suspects got out of the car and Rivera fired a gun. The gunfire hit Rodriguez, who fell to the ground. Shots also were fired at Rodriguez's friend, who escaped without injuries.
Rivera and Sanchez, both 18, have been charged with murder, attempted murder and participating in a criminal street gang. They were minors when the shooting occurred but are being prosecuted as adults.
Alessandra Sanchez has been charged with dissuading a witness and participating in a criminal street gang in connection with the shooting. She is free on bail; the two other defendants remain in custody.
Pouv testified that Alessandra Sanchez was in the car when the shooting occurred and threatened Rodriguez's friend to prevent him from talking to police about the shooting. He also said the three defendants are Norteño gang members.
Questions of intent
Michael Scheid, Alessandra Sanchez's defense attorney, argued that his client was in the car with her boyfriend, Rivera, and her brother, Raul Sanchez, and was not participating in a gang. He also argued that his client could've just been making a factual statement when she warned the surviving victim about what could happen to him.
In his response, Deputy District Attorney Rick Mury said Alessandra Sanchez warned the surviving victim "they'll get you next" if he cooperated with police. He argued that she was threatening the victim for her gang.
Maureen Keller, Raul Sanchez's defense attorney, argued that her client had agreed to get out of the car and have a fistfight with Rodriguez and his friend before Rivera pulled out the gun and fired.
"My client had no intention to engage in a murder and had no intention to engage in a shooting," Keller said.
Mury argued that Raul Sanchez knew Rivera was carrying a gun that day, and they all agreed to assault the victims. The prosecutor said that after Rodriguez was shot, the second victim was shot at as he escaped through an alley.
Gene Trimble, Rivera's defense attorney, chose not to present a closing argument.
Judge to review testimony
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff said in court that he needed time to read a transcript of the two-day preliminary hearing's testimony, which likely will take several days to produce. The judge said he wanted to review the testimony before he determines whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.
The attorneys also want to submit written arguments. Because of scheduling conflicts, the judge scheduled the defendants to return to court Aug. 14 for his ruling.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.