Nineteen-year-old Scott Sittler lived another 15 years paralyzed and on a respirator after Erwin Johnny Sanchez shot him in the head on a quiet Santa Ana street in 1994. But after Sittler died of pneumonia in February 2009, the district attorney's office filed murder charges. Sanchez had been scheduled to get out of prison in 2015 after pleading guilty to attempted murder in September 1996, but a jury last May convicted the Santa Ana 36-year-old of murder with sentencing enhancements for criminal street gang activity and personal discharge of a firearm. On Friday, he was sentenced to another 29 years to life in prison.
The gang banger shot Sittler because the 19-year-old was believed to be making time with the girlfriend of Sanchez's brother, 38-year-old Giovanny Edgar Sanchez. The Sanchez brothers and friend Daniel Paul Cruz, 35, confronted Sittler around 4 p.m. on Sept. 24, 1994, in a residential cul-de-sac on Minnie Street in Santa Ana. Erwin Sanchez whipped out a gun and fired one shot into Sittler's mouth at close range. The bullet pierced through the back of Sittler's neck, severing his spinal cord and paralyzing him.
Erwin Sanchez tried to argue it was a crime of passion and that he should face involuntary manslaughter charges, but the jury did not agree. After copping to attempted murder, he was sentenced in 1996 to 20 years in life in state prison. Giovanni Sanchez and Santa Ana resident Cruz pleaded guilty to the same.
Cruz was sentenced to nine years in state prison. After completing his sentence for the attempted murder of Sittler, he was busted in 2003 for armed residential robbery. He was due to be released from state prison in 2022 for that crime.
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Sittler spent 15 years since the shooting in care facilities. After he died, Drs. Tony Juguilon and Ajay Panchal, coroners in Orange and Los Angeles counties, concluded that the gunshot wound Sittler sustained in 1994 began the chain of events that caused his death. That finding prompted the Orange County District Attorney's office to file stepped up murder charges against the Sanchez brothers and Cruz, who has a jury trial coming up in February for the Sittler murder rap.
More governmental hoops need to be jumped through to prosecute Giovanni Sanchez, who spent 11 years in state prison for the attempted murder of Sittler and another three years in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody before being deported to Guatemala in 2009. The district attorney's office is now seeking to have him extradited back to Orange County to face the murder counts.