A judge on Monday rejected several defense motions challenging an indictment against nine defendants charged with murder in connection with the shooting death of a 20-year-old man in north Modesto.
The defendants are accused of attacking Erick Gomez on Feb. 14 on Vera Cruz Drive near Coffee Road and Floyd Avenue. Court documents filed by the prosecution indicate that Gomez’s murder was motivated by ongoing violence between Sureño and Norteño street gangs.
Those indicted are: Nancy Rodriguez, Jeanette Robles, Elida Carranza, Jenna Cheyenne Sebourn, Dalia Mendoza, Lisandro Mendoza, Jesse James Sebourn, Michael Terrill Sebourn and Giovani Barocio.
They also are charged with criminal conspiracy with enhancements saying they committed the murder for the benefit of the Sureño street gang and used a firearm, which could lengthen their sentences if convicted. Barocio, the suspected gunman, remained a fugitive Monday.
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One of the defense motions claimed that one criminal grand juror didn’t understand English well enough to indict the defendants.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff said the judge who presided over the selection of the grand jury, Judge Scott Steffen, adequately questioned the juror. Zeff also said the juror sufficiently understood English to listen to testimony and render a decision.
Other defense motions denied by Zeff included a claim that there were not enough jurors present to render the decision. Zeff said only 12 jury votes are needed for an indictment, and only 12 jurors need to be present to vote. He said 17 jurors voted to indict the defendants in this case.
The criminal grand jury had 19 jurors and two alternates. They listened to testimony from 25 witnesses, including 16 law enforcement officials.
The indictment, filed March 6, means the case skips the preliminary hearing phase and goes straight to trial. Grand jury proceedings are held behind closed doors, and witnesses testify without the defendants or their defense attorneys present.
The indictment alleges that the defendants were involved in the beating, stabbing and shooting of Gomez. The document indicates that Sureño gang members – armed with knives and at least one gun – roamed the area in search of rival Norteños.
The suspects yelled Sureño gang challenges while stabbing Gomez, according to the indictment. Gomez then was shot several times.
After the judge denied the defense motions Monday morning, all the defendants in the courtroom pleaded not guilty to their charges and denied the alleged enhancements. The enhancements could lengthen a prison sentence if convicted.
Zeff then scheduled a trial to start June 2. The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.
The defendants remain in custody. The judge scheduled them to return to court Oct. 22, when the defense attorneys are expected file a motion to dismiss the charges.