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October 9, 2013

Final defendant sentenced in 1999 Grayson shooting; victim’s sister delivers statement

A slain man’s sister spoke directly to a defendant at a sentencing hearing Wednesday about the 1999 shooting that ended her brother’s life outside a Grayson market. Authorities says the victim was shot in retaliation for a fight involving the defendant’s brother two weeks before.

Fourteen years of waiting for justice in her brother’s slaying ended Wednesday for Mary Ann Ybarra as the final defendant responsible was sentenced to prison.

She read her victim impact statement in court before Felipe Solorio was sentenced. She was so nervous as she spoke directly to the defendant that victim advocate Alex Loya held her written statement for her.

“You not only took my brother away from me, but you also took an uncle away from his nieces,” Mary Ann Ybarra told Solorio.

As expected, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge John Freeland sentenced Solorio to 21 years in prison for the death of 22-year-old Robert Ybarra of Grayson.

Ybarra was shot in the face and chest with a shotgun March 7, 1999, while standing on a sidewalk outside a market in the 1800 block of Minnie Street in Grayson. He was shot in retaliation for a fight that had occurred about two weeks earlier.

As part of a plea deal, Solorio, 41, formerly of Westley, pleaded guilty last week to voluntary manslaughter for his role in the shooting. Solorio also agreed to admit to an enhancement for the use of a gun in the slaying, which lengthened his sentence.

The defendant addressed several relatives of the victim in the courtroom audience Wednesday morning, standing up to face the family during the hearing.

“I just hope my incarceration someday brings peace to you,” Solorio said to Ybarra’s family. “I hope that one day you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me.”

He didn’t say anything else before bailiffs handcuffed him and ushered him out of the courtroom. Solorio had been a fugitive for 12 years and a day after the shooting before authorities captured him two years ago in Mexico.

Deputy District Attorney John Baker has said in court that Solorio was upset about the fight between his brother and Ybarra. The prosecutor said Solorio got into a car with three other men and drove from Westley to Grayson to look for Ybarra. On the way there, Solorio stopped to pick up a gun.

Investigators have said a red Pontiac stopped about 20 feet from Ybarra. A man got out of the car and fired a shotgun at him. The gunman then got back into the car, which drove away. Ybarra was pronounced dead at the scene.

Robert Chase, Solorio’s defense attorney, told the judge last week that his client agreed to the plea deal rather than take his chances with a jury trial in which he would have faced a charge of second-degree murder and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Mary Ann Ybarra told Solorio that he should have received a longer sentence because he was the instigator who gathered a group of people to shoot her brother. But she said she’s satisfied Solorio will be punished and that the case is over.

“It’s been a long 14 years, but there’s finally justice for Bobby,” she said in court.

Not long after Ybarra was gunned down, authorities found the red Pontiac used in the shooting abandoned at River Road and Minnie Street. Solorio was the car’s registered owner, and he was quickly identified as a suspect.

Stanislaus County sheriff’s investigators learned Solorio might have avoided capture by going to Mexico.

On March 8, 2011, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department was notified that Solorio had been arrested that morning in Mexicali, which borders southeast California.

Mexican officials took Solorio to the international border crossing in Calexico, where he was handed over to U.S. law enforcement officials.

Investigators from the Stanislaus District Attorney’s Office drove to Calexico and returned Solorio to the county.

Three other men, who went to Grayson with Solorio in the Pontiac, were convicted for their involvement in Ybarra’s death.

In May 2001, a jury convicted Juan “Johnny” Manuel Alardin of first-degree murder. Witnesses for the prosecution testified that Alardin was the shooter, but defense witnesses said he was inside his ex-mother-in-law’s home when Ybarra was gunned down.

Because the jury was split on whether Alardin fired the gun that killed Ybarra, he did not receive extra prison time for the use of a gun in the slaying. Mary Ann Ybarra said Alardin received a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

Jeffrey Allen Muniz and Miguel Garcia also were arrested and charged in Ybarra’s slaying. Both made deals with the District Attorney’s Office, pleading guilty to lesser charges.

Judge Freeland on Wednesday ordered Solorio to pay $6,984 in restitution to the family. Solorio will serve three years of parole when he is released from prison.

After the hearing, Ybarra’s family gathered in the courthouse hallway to hug each other and share some tears. Mary Ann Ybarra said she was grateful for the help she received from the District Attorney’s Office, especially Loya, the victims advocate who has joined her at every court hearing over the past 14 years.

She also said she was appreciative of the support she received from Modesto’s Carole Sund-Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation, a group geared at helping victims’ families. She later became involved in the foundation and eventually became a board member.

The foundation no longer exists and shifted its assets to Stanislaus Area Crime Stoppers, a group that helps law enforcement catch criminals with tips from the public.

Mary Ann Ybarra said she never gave up hope that Solorio would be captured and prosecuted, even when some told her she should move on. She said she became a nuisance to FBI officials, calling them once a month and asking about the search for Solorio.

The prosecutor told Ybarra’s family that he understands this has been a long ordeal, but the conclusion of this case can bring them some solace.

“It won’t bring him back,” Baker said. “But maybe it can bring you some closure.”

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