Defendant mentally fit to stand trial in Modesto in fatal shooting of 2

Aaron Aguilera, accused of murder, talks from a visiting booth at the downtown jail in 20ll.
Aaron Aguilera, accused of murder, talks from a visiting booth at the downtown jail in 20ll. The Modesto Bee

A judge has determined that a defendant is mentally competent to stand trial on charges of murder in the 2009 shooting deaths of a 10-year-old boy and a man in Modesto’s La Loma neighborhood.

Aaron Aguilera’s mental health became an issue last month when he told the judge he didn’t want his trial to be delayed again. Aguilera wanted to proceed to trial without his co-defendant as soon as possible.

After Aguilera refused to change his mind, his attorney asked the judge to suspend the case. The attorney, Robert Winston, said he had serious doubts about his client’s ability to understand the criminal case against him and the possible consequences he faces.

Winston preferred to wait so Aguilera and his co-defendant could stand trial together. The two have been prosecuted together since May 2011.

. After reviewing the findings of a mental health evaluation, Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Marie Silveira ruled Monday that Aguilera was competent to stand trial.

The judge ordered Aguilera and Randy Sifuentez to return to court Thursday to reschedule their trial. It had been scheduled to start last month, but Sifuentez’s attorney, Vangie Eidsvik-Garza, died from an illness.

The court appointed Stephen Foley to represent Sifuentez, but he needs time to get caught up on the case.

Aguilera and Sifuentez are accused of murder in the shooting deaths of Epifanio Ramirez Jr., 10, and Jason Cyphers, 29, in the 100 block of Santa Barbara Avenue in the La Loma neighborhood.

The boy was not the intended target. He was killed by a stray bullet that went through a wall and hit his head.

A third defendant in the case, Joe Luis Ramirez, is being prosecuted separately. His case has not reached the preliminary hearing phase. He also is scheduled to return to court Thursday for a hearing. He has no relation to the boy killed in the shooting.

Authorities have said the shooting was gang retaliation.

Testimony in a preliminary hearing indicated that the boy’s father, Epifanio Ramirez Sr., was the intended target because he was a Norteño gang dropout in competition for the drug trade in what is considered Norteño turf. He was in the home’s garage with Cyphers when the shootings occurred.

If convicted, Aguilera and Sifuentez face maximum sentences of life in prison without parole. Prosecutors have not decided whether to seek the death penalty against Joe Ramirez.

All three defendants remain in custody at Stanislaus County Jail.