Tentative trial date scheduled in Modesto double homicide case

A judge on Thursday tentatively scheduled a trial to start Feb. 17 for defendants charged with murder in the 2009 shooting of a 10-year-old boy and a man in Modesto’s La Loma neighborhood.

Authorities say Aaron Aguilera, Randy Sifuentez and Joe Luis Ramirez are responsible for the deaths of Epifanio Ramirez Jr., 10, and Jason Cyphers, 29, who were shot at a home in the 100 block of Santa Barbara Avenue in the La Loma neighborhood.

It’s possible the three defendants will stand trial together next year, but there still are some legal hurdles to jump through.

First, Joe Ramirez has not had his preliminary hearing, which is used by the court to determine whether there’s enough evidence for him to stand trial. For now, he is being prosecuted separately.

Deputy District Attorney Tom Brennan told the judge he hopes to have a criminal grand jury impaneled before the end of the month to hear testimony in Joe Ramirez’s case. If the grand jury indicts Ramirez, his case skips the preliminary hearing phase and moves straight to trial.

The prosecutor also said the District Attorney’s Office will not seek the death penalty against Ramirez. This allows the prosecution to consolidate the cases and have the three defendants stand trial together.

If convicted as charged, the defendants would face maximum sentences of life in prison without parole.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Marie Silveira told the attorneys the February trial date is tentative because it’s possible the trial could start as early as December if other trials the court and the attorneys are involved in are delayed.

The judge said scheduling the tentative date will provide at least a possible start for a trial that the defendants, the prosecution and the victims’ families want as soon as possible.

“There’s a lot of people who want this jury trial,” Silveira told the attorneys.

The boy was not the intended target in the shooting. He was killed by a stray bullet that went through a wall and hit his head. Joe Ramirez has no relation to the boy.

The three defendants remain in custody at the Stanislaus County jail.

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.