MODESTO -- Nine people accused of murder in a north Modesto gang shooting were made aware Wednesday that a criminal grand jury has convened, listening to testimony and arguments as prosecutors seek an indictment against the defendants.
Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira told the judge that the grand jury proceeding was expected to conclude by Wednesday afternoon. If the jurors choose to indict the defendants, the case will skip the preliminary hearing phase and move toward a trial.
Prosecutors say that by Monday, they will announce in court the result of the grand jury proceeding.
The defendants have been charged with murder in the Feb. 14 attack on 20-year-old Erick Gomez. Court documents indicate that the attack was motivated by ongoing violence between rival Sureño and Norteño street gangs.
Wednesday morning, bailiffs ushered into the courtroom Nancy Rodriguez, Jeanette Robles, Elida Carranza and Jenna Cheyenne Sebourn, who were seated in the jury box with their attorneys sitting behind them.
Lisandro Mendoza, Jesse James Sebourn, Michael Terrill Sebourn and Danny Leon Copeland were seated near the attorneys' table. Dalia Mendoza, a 17-year-old girl being prosecuted as an adult, sat separately near the courtroom clerk.
All the defendants remain in custody. Authorities still are searching for the 10th suspect wanted in the shooting, Giovani Barocio, who remained a fugitive Wednesday afternoon. Investigators allege that Barocio was the gunman in the attack.
Ferreira appeared at Wednesday's pretrial hearing on behalf of Deputy District Attorney Tom Brennan, who was absent, conceivably leading the grand jury proceeding. Only the grand jurors, prosecutors, a court reporter, the witnesses and interpreters are allowed in the courtroom during the closed-door session.
No hearing with indictment
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff scheduled the defendants to return to court Monday, when the case will proceed in one of two directions.
If prosecutors return with an indictment, the judge said there will be no need for Monday's scheduled preliminary hearing. If there is no indictment, Zeff said he likely will postpone the preliminary hearing.
A defense attorney for Copeland, who wants a timely preliminary hearing, said he is not prepared to handle that hearing Monday. Zeff said the attorney's ability to defend his client adequately supersedes Cope- land's need for a prompt preliminary hearing.
As Wednesday's hearing ended, Copeland, through his attorney, told the judge he has not been given access to the jail's law library.
Zeff said, "Not my problem. It's an issue he needs to take up with the jail people."
A criminal complaint alleges that the defendants were involved in the beating, stabbing and shooting of Gomez in the 2400 block of Vera Cruz Drive, just east of Coffee Road and south of Floyd Avenue.
Investigators have said the attack was premeditated; Sureño gang members roamed the area in search of rival Norteños. The complaint alleges that the gang members armed themselves with knives and at least one gun.
The suspects yelled Sureño gang challenges while stabbing Gomez, according to the criminal complaint. Gomez was then shot several times.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.