Case ends for two defendants – 8 years after slaying

Murdered Son’s Mom Talks After Modesto Court Hearing

Julie Sandoval-Preciado talks to Bee reporter Garth Stapley after a sentencing hearing in Stanislaus County Superior Court on Friday, Dec. 4, 2015. (Joan Barnett Led/
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Julie Sandoval-Preciado talks to Bee reporter Garth Stapley after a sentencing hearing in Stanislaus County Superior Court on Friday, Dec. 4, 2015. (Joan Barnett Led/

‘You don’t know how many times I wanted to jump that (courtroom bar) and blow your brains out like you did my son,” Julie Sandoval-Preciado thundered, her pained words broken by heavy sobs as she addressed, finally, two of the men who killed her son 8 1/2 long years ago.

“You took away my baby. This is what you took away from me!” Sandoval-Preciado shouted, grabbing a collage of photographs documenting a life cut short in a botched car theft. She strode toward the two men, holding the picture frame toward their faces as armed bailiffs hustled to put themselves between them and the distraught mother.

Moments earlier, a shackled Gary Spray had entered the courtroom without a glance at the audience. On Friday – his 37th birthday – he was sentenced to spend the next 30 years in prison, having pleaded guilty to murdering Erik Gustavo Sandoval Preciado.

You’re no different from a terrorist; you prey on innocent people.

Julie Sandoval-Preciado, slaying victim’s mother

Spray was the shooter, authorities said. His neck bore huge “88” tattoos – white supremacist code using the eighth letter to signify “heil Hitler.”

A man who wanted the motor from Preciado’s Chevrolet Impala had hired Spray to take it, authorities say, and Preciado, 31, was killed.

“I used to cry every day at school because all the other kids had dads and I was the only one who didn’t,” said Preciado’s daughter, Erika, now 13. “I don’t know what it feels like to have a dad.”

Others offered similar emotionally charged statements. Several cited the 8 1/2 year wait for justice in what may be the most sluggish courthouse in California, an ongoing Modesto Bee analysis suggests.

Stanislaus County has about three times as many pending murder cases as the statewide average, per capita, costing taxpayers more than $5 million each year to house in jail those awaiting trial and leaving less space for other inmates. Continuances in Stanislaus courtrooms have sharply increased in recent years, including dozens for those accused in Preciado’s slaying – despite detectives having obtained confessions from all four defendants shortly after he was gunned down.

I was his princess baby girl. Now I don’t have that.

Erika Preciado, 13, daughter of slaying victim

“My life will go on and hating you will fix nothing,” Bianca Puebla, the victim’s younger sister, told the men. “That would just drown me in negativity and I won’t let you have that.”

Steven Salgado, 27 – the other defendant in the courtroom Friday – stood and asked for forgiveness, his lip quivering. “I know there is nothing I could say to make things better,” he said softly. “I apologize to your family, especially to you,” he said to Erika Preciado, “growing up without a pops.”

His attorney, Robert Chase, started to say his client had privately expressed sorrow many times, but Sandoval-Preciado angrily interrupted.

“Save your breath, because nothing you say and nothing he says means anything to me,” she said.

Who’s going to walk my daughter down the aisle?

Tonya Preciado Delgado, Erika Preciado’s mother

Spray said nothing.

It’s not known why, after 8 1/2 years of delay after delay, Spray decided a few weeks ago to skip trial and plead guilty Friday. His Manteca attorney, Jim Smootz, declined to comment.

Salgado, initially charged with murder as well, last week agreed to plead guilty to a reduced manslaughter charge. A judge had thrown out his confession, ruling that it was obtained illegally, and he has agreed to testify against the remaining two defendants.

Trial dates for Andrew Briseno, 28, and Adolfo Leyva, 27, are expected to be scheduled next year. Briseno also shot Preciado, authorities say, while Leyva drove the group to get the victim’s car between Modesto and Ceres. Yosef Abdo Elsumeri, whom authorities say wanted the engine, fled to Yemen.

Judge Nancy Ashley blocked access Friday for The Bee’s video and still cameras. The family shared photographs and granted interviews outside the courtroom.

Ashley presides over fewer trials each year than other judges, while murder cases stack up higher in her courtroom than any other: 15 are pending, with an average case life of 4 1/2 years, and six have dragged on longer than five years – all marks exceeding those in Stanislaus’ seven other criminal courtrooms. Only two other Stanislaus murder cases have waited longer than the ones involving those accused in Preciado’s slaying.

Prosecutor Wendell Emerson said he agreed awhile ago to split the accused into three cases because of lengthy delays, but proceedings still dragged on. He was reassigned before Spray and Salgado agreed to deals.

“It’s been a long, unfortunate, twisted history,” Emerson said, “and Julie paid the price.”

On Friday, she told Spray and Salgado she’s convinced they’re “on the road to hell.”

“I’ve forgiven you,” she said, “not because you deserve to be but so I can have peace in my heart.”

Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390