Delays continue in 2010 Planada gang shooting case

rparsons@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 25, 2013 

A Merced judge granted another delay Wednesday for three suspected gang members charged with shooting two teenagers in 2010.

Ezequiel Castillo, 23, and Johnny Ray Munoz and Ramon Manzo Jr., both 24, have pleaded not guilty in connection with the Aug.30, 2010, shooting of teenagers Monica Garcia and Justin Gonzales.

If convicted, all three defendants face potential life prison sentences.

Conflicting schedules for forensic experts, investigators and attorneys have slowed the court process from the beginning, authorities said.

On Wednesday, Merced Superior Court Judge John D. Kirihara permitted a delay to allow a recently appointed defense attorney time to become familiar with the case.

Barbara O’Neill, a Fresno attorney, was hired about three weeks ago to represent Manzo after another attorney left the case because of a conflict of interest, authorities said.

The judge called the request for a delay “very reasonable” and scheduled another hearing for Nov.20.

All sides involved said they would like to see the case resolved soon.

“We would like to have the trial as soon as possible,” said Lorrie Anthony, the attorney representing Munoz.

Deputy District Attorney Allen Turner, the prosecutor in the case, acknowledged that the repeated delays have been difficult for both victims.

“We’re all very anxious to bring this to a conclusion,” Turner said of his clients outside the courthouse Wednesday. The victims “are very bright, talented young people absolutely unassociated with the gang culture, and they nearly died because of this. We all want them to be able to move on with their lives.”

On the night of the shooting, investigators said the defendants went looking for rival gang members and instead found Garcia and Gonzales standing outside a home on Broadway Avenue in Planada. Investigators said the defendants started shooting because Gonzales was wearing a blue shirt.

Munoz, Manzo and another man are accused of opening fire while Castillo was allegedly driving, authorities have said.

The other suspected gunman, 20-year-old Jesus Ceja, pleaded no contest last year to a single count of attempted murder and is serving 15 years to life in state prison, according to court records.

Manzo, Munoz and Castillo remain in custody at the Merced County Jail.

Reporter Rob Parsons can be reached at rparsons@mercedsunstar.com or (209)385-2482.

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