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July 30, 2010

Four arrested in Modesto shooting death; fifth suspect sought

Detectives on Thursday had arrested four suspects and were looking for a fifth in connection with a fatal shooting of a 32-year-old man in west Modesto about a month ago, which apparently stemmed from a domestic dispute.

On June 27, Modesto police officers found Juan Gabriel Barajas of Modesto slumped over with a gunshot wound in the driver's seat of a car. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Detectives followed up on leads from the initial investigation and identified five suspects in the shooting, said Detective Steven Stanfield, a police spokesman.

On July 12, the detectives arrested Gilbert Navarro Jr., 23, of Modesto on suspicion of murder. Navarro was being held at the Stanislaus County Jail on Thursday evening, and his bail was set at $2 million.

Stanfield said the detectives were looking for Francisco "Frankie" Carranza Meza, 23, of Modesto, who is wanted on suspicion of murder in connection with Barajas' death.

Meza is believed to be hiding in Mexico. Detectives were asking the public to help find and capture him. Modesto police said Meza should be considered armed and dangerous.

On July 14 and 15, the detectives arrested Maricela Varela, 23, Sarah Irene Taberna, 26, and Gloria "Kina" Meza, 29, all of Modesto, on suspicion of being an accessory to murder. Gloria Meza is Francisco Meza's sister.

Evidence destroyed

Stanfield said the women gave detectives false information about the murder and then helped Navarro and Meza destroy evidence at the crime scene.

Detectives, however, declined to say what evidence was destroyed fearing it would harm the investigation. The detectives refused to release any details about the domestic dispute incident that led to the shooting.

Shortly before 11:30 p.m., officers responded to reports of shots fired and a possible victim in a red car in the 1600 block of Vicksburg Street, just south of Paradise Road and southwest of Marshall Park.

Barajas was a regular customer at a market on Paradise Road. An employee there said Barajas worked as a house painter, and family members confirmed he had a son who is living with the mother.

Modesto police ask anyone with information about this shooting or Meza's whereabouts to call Detective Jon Evers at 652-1995 or Crime Stoppers at 521-4636. Tipsters can e-mail tips through the Crime Stoppers Web site,, or text tips to CRIMES (274637) by typing "Tip704" plus a message. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at or 578-2394.

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