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Jury starts deliberating in '04 shooting

The 2004 shooting death of Ernestina "Tina" DeJesus Tizoc, who was killed while she sat under a gazebo in Oregon Park, chatting with friends, was a gang hit by a car full of teenage boys who were bent on revenge, or the unpredictable act of one person, attorneys argued Tuesday.

Either way, Tina was slain before she could reach her 18th birthday or graduate from Johansen High School. And the young woman was not a gang member, even though she wore a maroon blouse in a neighborhood where rival gangs fight over red and blue.

Twelve jurors who began deliberating after attorneys wrapped up three days of closing arguments in Stanislaus County Superior Court will seal the fate of two young men who have been charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and participating in a criminal street gang.

Two others will be tried separately, and a fifth young man is testifying against the rest.

As he recapped the case, a prosecutor urged the jury to think like a gang member, saying it is the only way to understand a shooting that sent 15 bullets flying through an airport neighborhood park, in broad daylight, while an after-school program run by the Police Activities League was in full swing.

Deputy District Attorney Thomas Brennan said gang members are murderous, amoral animals who thrive on the fear they instill in their neighborhoods.

That's why five young men piled into a white Chevrolet Blazer, making at least one pass around the park, screaming gang slogans such as "puro Sur" or pure Southerner, before Edgar Barajas allegedly aimed a .22-caliber rifle and fired shot after shot after shot.

To the prosecutor, Tina's death is a classic example of a gang shooting, with Sureños, or Southerners, who claim blue, seeking revenge on Norteños, or Northerners, who claim red.

Brennan said the Sureños were mad because some Norteños had come at them with bats the night before, chasing them into their friend's house near the park and smashing out the back passenger-side windows of the Blazer.

The Norteños had broken their friend's arm, too, and firebombed his house. The Sureños were looking for some payback, Brennan said.

To reach guilty verdicts, the jury would have to believe that Pedro Castillo, 19, and Rigoberto Moreno, 20, both of Modesto, were aiding and abetting the alleged shooter, Barajas, 20, of Modesto, and driver Jesus Rodriguez, 19, of Patterson.

The fifth suspect, Mario Garcia, 21, of Modesto, is expected to gain his freedom after he testifies at both trials. Brennan said he cut a deal because witnesses in the park described the shooting but could not identify any of the men in the SUV.

Defense attorneys said their clients cannot be guilty of first-degree murder unless they intended to kill a Norteño on May 26, 2004, more than 3½ years ago. The boys didn't have a plan, according to Garcia's testimony.

Defense attorney Stephen Foley, who represents Castillo, said his client was just along for the ride. Barajas was in the back cargo area of the SUV, with a rifle, but Castillo thought they were taking the gun to their friend's house, for self-defense or use later that night, Foley said.

Barajas was egged on by the taunting of Rodriguez; when Barajas tried to shoot into the air above the crowd in the park, Rodriguez jerked the Blazer forward, pushing the barrel of the gun downward, causing Barajas to shoot low, Foley said.

Foley also suggested Tina could have been killed by someone in the park returning fire to the boys in the Blazer.

Defense attorney Martin Baker, who represents Moreno, said the presence of Castillo and Moreno in the Blazer is not evidence of their willingness to participate in a murder conspiracy.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.

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