Modesto double homicide trial delayed for 1 defendant

rahumada@modbee.comJune 6, 2014 

A defendant who was scheduled to stand trial this week in a Modesto double homicide will likely have to wait another year before a jury hears his case. His attorney unexpectedly died.

Randy Sifuentez, along with two other men, is accused of murder in the 2009 shooting deaths of Epifanio Ramirez Jr., 10, and Jason Cyphers, 29, in the 100 block of Santa Barbara Avenue in Modesto’s La Loma neighborhood.

A trial for Sifuentez and co-defendant Aaron Aguilera was scheduled to start with jury selection Tuesday. But Sifuentez’s defense attorney, Vangie Eidsvik-Garza, was hospitalized.

Stanislaus County Judge Marie Silveira had scheduled a pretrial hearing to get an update on Eidsvik-Garza’s condition and determine how the court would proceed. The judge on Friday morning was informed that Eidsvik-Garza had died.

Silveira said in court that she was stunned by the news of the defense attorney’s death. She added that Eidsvik-Garza represented her clients well.

“I realized that she was ill. I didn’t know that it was this grave,” the judge said.

The court has not determined what exactly will happen with the trial for Sifuentez and Aguilera, but it is certain that Sifuentez won’t stand trial at least for another year.

The judge has appointed Stephen Foley to represent Sifuentez. Foley will need time to get caught up with the information in the murder case.

Deputy District Attorney Tom Brennan told the judge that Aguilera can stand trial alone, starting late next week. Sifuentez would then wait and stand trial next year, possibly with the third defendant, Joe Luis Ramirez.

Joe Ramirez has no relation to the boy, who was not the intended target. The boy was killed by a stray bullet that went through a wall and hit his head.

Testimony in a June 2012 preliminary hearing for Aguilera and Sifuentez indicated that the boy’s father, Epifanio Ramirez Sr., was the intended target because he was a Norteño gang dropout in competition for the drug trade in what is considered Norteño turf. He was in the home’s garage with Cyphers when the shootings occurred.

Joe Ramirez has not yet reached the preliminary hearing phase, which is needed for the court to determine whether there is enough evidence for him to stand trial accused of murder in the two deaths.

Robert Winston, Aguilera’s defense attorney, told the judge he needs time to consider the prosecutor’s proposal before moving forward.

Silveira said it’s understandable that Winston needs a few days to decide what’s best for his client. Aguilera and Sifuentez have been prosecuted together since charges were filed against them in May 2011.

“I think we just need to come back next week,” the judge said. “It’s a complicated situation.”

Aguilera and Sifuentez are scheduled to return to court Wednesday for the judge to decide when their trial will start.

If convicted, Aguilera and Sifuentez face maximum sentences of life in prison without parole. Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty against Joe Ramirez.

All three defendants remain in custody at the Stanislaus County jail.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeeCourts.

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