When gang banger Joseph Baez's special circumstances murder trial began last month, he was looking at the possibility of life in state prison without the possibility of parole if convicted in Orange County's first murder of 2010. Thursday, a jury found him guilty instead of second degree murder and sentencing enhancements that carry a maximum punishment that's technically less severe than life without parole, but not much less for the inmate suffered a beat down as part of ongoing tensions between rival Mexican gangs in Orange County Jail.
Baez, 28, plotted with 33-year-old fellow Orange resident Robert Reil and Christian Galindo, 27, to steal drugs from dealer Bernal Ezquivel Felix in January 2010. The fourth defendant in the case, Amour Villamar, 33, also of Orange, is alleged to have set up a fake drug by. When Felix pulled up in his car around 11 p.m. the night of the meeting, Baez is accused of stepping out of the darkness and shooting the dealer through the window. The car rolled into a parked vehicle and the killers left without any drugs.
Galindo pleaded guilty in November 2011 to manslaughter and gang enhancement charges that got him 12 years and four months in prison. Villamar's has a pre-trial hearing scheduled March 15 in a case that includes murder, robbery, gang, drug sale and car theft counts.
Nearly a year to the day before that hearing, a jury in Santa Ana found Reil guilty of first degree murder during the commission of a robbery, conspiracy to commit a robbery, street terrorism, being an active participant in criminal street gang having a concealed firearm in a vehicle, and various sentencing enhancements were found true. The following May, he was sentenced to 50 years to life in state prison.
Reil was among nearly 100 alleged members of the notorious Mexican Mafia named in an indictment unsealed in the summer of 2011 that alleged the gangsters use violence to control Orange County jails and that they exert their influence over Latino gangs on the streets as well. Among the incidents law enforcement noted to point to Mexican gang power clashes behind bars was a beat down Baez suffered on New Year's Eve 2010.
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Baez was convicted yesterday of on one felony count of second degree murder with sentencing enhancements for committing a crime for the benefit of a criminal street gang, street terrorism, being a gang member vicariously discharging a firearm causing death, and criminal street gang activity. He has a prior strike conviction for assault with a deadly weapon in 2008.
His sentencing is scheduled for June 14.
Bernal Ezequiel Felix, 2010 OC Homicide No. 1: Man Shot Driving Through Neighborhood
Joseph Baez Faces Trial in Fatal Shooting of OC's First Murder Victim of 2010
Robert Luis Reil Gets 50 More Years to Engage in Mexican Mafia Mayhem Behind Bars
26 Charged with Carrying Out Mexican Mafia Orders in OC Jail