Criminal grand jury indicts defendant in Modesto double homicide

A criminal grand jury has indicted a defendant accused of murder in the 2009 shooting of a 10-year-old boy and a man in Modesto’s La Loma neighborhood.

It’s been more than a year since Joe Luis Ramirez initially was charged with murder in the deaths of Epifanio Ramirez Jr., 10, and Jason Cyphers, 29.

They were shot at a home in the 100 block of Santa Barbara Avenue in what authorities have called gang retaliation.

The criminal grand jury on Sept. 30 indicted Ramirez, which allows his case to skip the preliminary hearing phase and move straight to trial.

The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office now likely will seek to prosecute Ramirez with his co-defendants, who are scheduled to stand trial Feb. 17.

Ramirez appeared in court Monday morning to be arraigned on the indictment. He pleaded not guilty and denied the enhancements added to his charges.

The grand jury indicted Ramirez on two counts of murder with enhancements of acting with premeditation, using a gun and acting on the behalf of the Norteño street gang. Ramirez’s co-defendants, Aaron Aguilera and Randy Sifuentez, face the same charges.

Criminal grand jury proceedings are held behind closed doors, and witnesses testify without the defendants or their attorneys present.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Marie Silveira scheduled Ramirez to return to court Nov. 18, when his co-defendants also are scheduled to appear in court.

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

Deputy District Attorney Tom Brennan has said in court that prosecutors will not seek the death penalty against Ramirez, which 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.

The boy was not the intended target in the shooting, authorities said. He was killed by a stray bullet that went through a wall and hit his head. Joe Ramirez is not related to the boy.

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.