At sentencing, family speaks about father killed in west Modesto

Francisco “Frankie” Carranza Meza
Francisco “Frankie” Carranza Meza Modesto Police Department

Rosa Bonilla said in court that Juan Gabriel Barajas was a good father who was always involved in his son’s life. She said that ended when Francisco “Frankie” Carranza Meza and Gilbert Navarro Jr. killed Barajas “without mercy.”

Nearly six years after the deadly west Modesto shooting, Meza remains a fugitive. Navarro, on the other hand, has spent most of that time in jail awaiting the conclusion of his case. It ended Tuesday morning, when a judge formally sentenced the 29-year-old Navarro to 21 years in prison for killing Barajas, 32.

Before Navarro was sentenced, Barajas’ family spoke in court. Bonilla said that their son, Juan Barajas Jr., was 5 years old when she had to tell him his father was dead.

My son has cried many times holding a picture of his father.

Rosa Bonilla

The boy, now 11, wrote a note that was read in court by the prosecutor. Barajas’ son wrote that he misses his dad. Bonilla said she and her son now go to the cemetery on Father’s Day to leave a balloon bouquet at Barajas’ grave site.

“My son has cried many times holding a picture of his father,” she told the judge Tuesday.

Bonilla said her relationship with Barajas had ended after 10 years together, but they shared custody of their son and got along better as friends.

Shortly before 11:30 p.m. June 27, 2010, officers responded to reports of gunshots in the 1600 block of Vicksburg Street, just south of Paradise Road and southwest of Marshall Park. Police found Barajas dead in the driver’s seat of a car.

Penelope Lopez, Barajas’ sister-in-law, spoke on behalf of the rest of Barajas’ family. She said his elderly mother is depressed and couldn’t attend any of the courtroom hearings.

“I’ve seen her change because she’s mourning the loss of her son,” Lopez told the judge. “There’s nothing you can do for someone who has lost their child.”

She said Barajas had seven siblings, and his death has left them and their families with a lot of heartache. “It’s just senseless that something like this has caused so much suffering for so many people,” Lopez said.

It is senseless as to what happened, and you’ll have plenty of time to reflect on this.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova told the defendant

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova told the defendant that this killing has also adversely affected Navarro’s family, whom he has seen in the courtroom audience for the past six years.

“It is senseless as to what happened, and you’ll have plenty of time to reflect on this,” the judge told the defendant after handing down the sentence.

Navarro pleaded no contest March 23 to voluntary manslaughter. He also was convicted of a gun enhancement for using a firearm in the crime. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dropped the murder charge.

Had the defendant gone to trial and been convicted of murder, Navarro would have faced a maximum sentence of 50 years to life in prison.

Navarro did not speak during the sentencing hearing. He only spoke as he was leaving the courtroom when someone from his family told the defendant, “I love you.” Navarro smiled, blew a kiss and said “I love you, too,” as bailiffs ushered out the shackled defendant.

The defendant has to serve 85 percent of his sentence because he committed a violent felony, and he has to serve four years on parole upon release from prison. Navarro will not be allowed to own or possess a gun for the rest of his life.

Co-defendant remains fugitive

At Navarro’s preliminary hearing in September 2013, Modesto police Detective Jon Evers testified that Navarro and Meza shot Barajas. Meza also was charged with murder but has eluded capture.

Authorities say Meza stands about 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs about 210 pounds. He is 29 years old and has brown hair and brown eyes. Meza is listed as one of the county’s “Most Wanted” fugitives on the Stanislaus Area Crime Stoppers website.

Maricela Varela, Sarah Irene Taberna and Gloria Meza have pleaded no contest to a felony charge of being accessories in a crime by giving detectives false information about the slaying. Taberna also pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of destroying or concealing evidence.

Police ask anyone with information about Meza’s whereabouts to call Crime Stoppers at 209-521-4636. Tipsters can email through the Crime Stoppers website,,or text tips to CRIMES (274637) by typing “Tip704” plus a message. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward.

Rosalio Ahumada: 209-578-2394, @ModBeeCourts