Man held up couple at gunpoint in Turlock motel attempted carjacking, prosecutors say

A 37-year-old Modesto man has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for trying to carjack two people at gunpoint in a Turlock motel parking lot before police found him hiding in one of the motel rooms, prosecutors said.

Billy Joe Ensminger was sentenced July 31, the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office announced in a news release Thursday. A jury in December found Ensminger of attempted carjacking while using a gun.

The armed holdup occurred about 1:30 a.m. Aug. 30, 2018, at a Travelodge motel. Ensminger approached a man and his girlfriend as they sat in a parked car and talked.

Prosecutors said Ensminger got into the car’s back seat behind the man and placed the handgun’s muzzle against the man’s back. He told the victim to get out and leave behind the car keys.

The victim got out of the car. Ensminger pointed the gun at the victim’s chest as he got into the driver’s seat, prosecutors said. Ensminger then realized the keys were not in the car, according to prosecutors, so Ensminger chased the victim into the motel lobby.

The victim’s girlfriend called police. Officers found Ensminger hiding in a motel room. The handgun and ammunition were recovered at the scene. Prosecutors said motel security cameras captured the crime on video.

Ensminger had a previous residential burglary conviction and had served prison time for an auto theft conviction. Prosecutors said Ensminger also had has several other felony convictions since 2000, including auto theft, residential burglary and drug possession in Tuolumne, Lassen and Stanislaus counties.

Attempted carjacking is considered a violent offense, and Ensminger must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence. The charge also is considered a strike under the state’s “Three Strikes” law, which can be used to lengthen a prison sentence if he’s convicted of another felony.

On Friday, Ensminger was serving his sentence in North Kern State Prison in Delano, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.