Two defendants have been sentenced to 172 years to life in prison for their roles in a north Modesto shooting that left two men dead and resulted in a high-speed police chase in which shots were fired.
Authorities have said defendants Eric Arguello and Victor Zapien were part of a group of Norteño gang members responsible for the deaths of Christopher Diaz, 20, of Modesto and Mark Ochoa, 19, of Ceres.
A jury in September 2012 found Arguello, Zapien and Kelly Valle guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. The defendants also were convicted of participating in a criminal street gang and two counts of attempted murder, one of those charges stemming from shots fired at a police officer.
Arguello, 23, and Zapien, 26, both of Modesto, were sentenced late Wednesday afternoon. Arguello was sentenced to an additional eight months in prison, according to Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira.
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Valle, 30, of Ceres has not been sentenced. He is scheduled to return to court July 11. It’s unclear whether Valle will be sentenced on that day.
A fourth defendant in the double-homicide case, 34-year-old Ceres resident David Ferrel, is scheduled to stand trial Oct. 20. Ferrel and Valle remain in custody at the Stanislaus County jail.
The shooting occurred shortly after midnight Aug. 31, 2009, in front of Diaz’s home in the 2600 block of Maxine Drive, north of Floyd Avenue and west of Coffee Road.
The prosecutor told the jury that Diaz and Ochoa were shot dead simply because they disrespected a high-ranking Norteño gang member, Valle.
A few hours before the shooting, Valle and Arguello had been at the Maxine Drive home when a dispute ensued. They had stopped there to invite Diaz and Ochoa to a party, but Valle testified that the meeting quickly turned confrontational.
Diaz and Ochoa felt disrespected when Arguello brought over Valle, who was drunk and belligerent and made unwanted advances toward Diaz’s mother.
Ferreira argued that the four defendants returned to Diaz’s home seeking retribution – three of them were armed, one with a .40-caliber semi-automatic Glock handgun with an extended ammunition clip and 30 bullets.
Testimony in the trial indicated Arguello was not armed in the deadly encounter, yet he was charged with murder like the other defendants.
Defense attorneys told the jurors that the defendants were looking to settle a dispute without violence and returned fire only to defend themselves during the deadly confrontation.
Valle and Ferrel testified in the trial that they typically carry guns for protection and didn’t expect a shootout. Ferrel said he saw Diaz pull out a gun first, so he fired to protect his friends. Valle said Ochoa fired first at him, but missed him from about 3 to 5 feet away.
The prosecutor argued that the defendants intended to execute Diaz and Ochoa that night. A forensic pathologist testified that it’s possible Ochoa was shot while he was on his knees, and it’s clear Diaz was shot five times in the back.
The shooting was followed by a police chase, and authorities said shots were fired at pursuing officers. Ferrel testified that he fired two shots into the air to get the patrol car to back off during the chase. Police eventually captured the four men after a seven-hour manhunt in northeast Modesto.