Eric Carrillo wasn’t a gang member. He was just a 16-year-old boy from Turlock who sneaked out of his house to call his girlfriend.
But he was wearing a red football jersey and was targeted by a group of gang members looking to shoot down a rival.
A Sureño gang member shot Carrillo in the face, paralyzing him from the waist down. More than six years later, the bullet remains lodged in his neck.
“I loved sports and to work on cars,” Carrillo said in court last week shortly before the gunman who paralyzed him was sentenced for the crime. “This (injury) has limited me. I’m not the type that holds a grudge against my shooter; I forgive him.”
Luis Manuel Tafolla, who pulled the trigger, was sentenced Dec. 10 to 25 years to life in prison. Before he starts serving that sentence, Tafolla must serve 85 percent of a seven-year prison sentence connected to crimes associated with the shooting.
A jury on Oct. 9, 2012, found Tafolla guilty of attempted murder, discharging a firearm causing great injury, assault with a semi-automatic firearm and participating in a criminal street gang. The jurors also determined that Tafolla attempted to murder Carrillo to benefit the Sureño gang.
Carrillo’s mother, Fancy Valdez, also spoke in court during Tafolla’s sentencing hearing. Victims and their families are allowed to give victim impact statements in court.
Valdez said her son was almost murdered. “It’s a shame that somebody would want to do that to my child,” she said in court.
The shooting occurred April 30, 2007, in front of Wakefield Elementary School, just a block from his house on South Avenue. Norteño gang members, who symbolize their affiliation with the color red, are known to live or hang out in that neighborhood.
Carrillo was grounded and wasn’t allowed to use his cellphone, but he wanted to call his girlfriend. So he grabbed the phone and left his house without his father noticing. Carrillo was wearing a red Atlanta Falcons jersey.
Prosecutors said Tafolla and three other Sureños hatched a plan to kill a rival Norteño gang member as retaliation for a previous shooting in Ceres.
They drove from Modesto to Turlock and spotted Carrillo walking near the school. Tafolla got out of the vehicle and asked Carrillo if he was a gang member. Carrillo said he wasn’t. Still, Tafolla fired two shots, prosecutors said. They said Tafolla yelled out “Sureño!” as he fired.
The small-caliber bullet ripped through Carrillo’s left cheek and lodged on the right side of his neck between some vertebra and his spinal cord. Carrillo now has to use a wheelchair to get around, but Deputy District Attorney Beth O’Hara Owen said the young man has made progress in rehabilitation.
“It is a terrible tragedy,” Owen said. “A young man’s life changed forever because he chose to wear a red shirt.”
Before Tafolla was sentenced, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Valli Israels denied a defense motion seeking a new trial.
The three other men who were with Tafolla also have been convicted for their roles in the shooting.
Marco Antonio Moreno-Robles pleaded guilty to attempted murder and being an accessory in the shooting. He also admitted the crimes were committed for the benefit of the Sureños. He was sentenced to 15 years and eight months and remains incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione.
As part of a plea deal with prosecutors, Armando Zaragoza pleaded no contest to being an accessory in the shooting. He received a five-year sentence.
Ricardo Ordaz was convicted of criminal conspiracy in the shooting, along with an enhancement for committing the crime for the benefit of the Sureño gang. In exchange for his testimony against Tafolla, he was sentenced as a juvenile and remained incarcerated at the Stanislaus County jail until he was 23.