See update at the end of this post on Ricardo Guerra Rocha being found guilty.
ORIGINAL POST, JUNE 20, 10:03 A.M.: A 19-year-old Santa Ana man is scheduled to face trial this morning for the shooting-murder of an innocent bystander outside a popular Santa Ana taco joint where an argument had broken out over whose state in Mexico is the best.
Ricardo Guerra Rocha, who was 17 at the time of the February 2011 shooting and later charged as an adult, could get 50 years to life in state prison with a conviction.
The defendant, his sister Maria Isabel Rocha, 30, and Ivan Sanchez, 33, had been dining with others at Mariscos La Ola restaurant, 1741 E. McFadden Ave., around 10 p.m. on Feb. 13, 2011, when a verbal argument with another party over who hailed from the best Mexican state escalated into a fistfight.
Esteban Navarrete, 35, had been eating with others not involved in the melee, which spilled out into the restaurant's parking lot. As the combatants began breaking up and going their own ways, Navarrete informed his party it would be a good time to leave.
By then, the Rocha siblings and Sanchez had driven away in a gray SUV, but they soon returned to the parking lot with Maria behind the wheel. Authorities now believe they went to retrieve a gun, according to an Orange County District Attorney's office statement.
Navarette was in his car with his wife and friends still inside the restaurant when he was allegedly approached by Sanchez and Ricardo Rocha, who authorities describe as Santa Ana street gang members.
Navarette, who did not belong to a gang, is said to have gotten out of his car to explain he had not been with the people who had fought with them, but Sanchez allegedly whipped out a gun and shot the man once in the head. He is further accused of firing several more shots, but no one else was hit. The gunmen are then to have jumped back into the SUV that Maria Rocha drove away.
Described as a family man and hard worker at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange for 15 years, Navarette was declared brain dead days after the shooting before his family gathered around his hospital bed as he was taken off life support.
According to the Santa Ana Police Department, the Rochas and Sanchez were identified through the aid of an anonymous tip from someone who recognized the alleged shooter and surveillance video from Mariscos La Ola. The video also confirmed that Navarrete only glanced over as the incident unfolded in the restaurant and that he never got involved.
Another tip revealed Sanchez was fleeing to Mexico, where he had never been before, before he was taken down on the southbound 5 freeway in Tustin on Feb. 17, 2011. His father, who is from Mexico, was also in the vehicle with two others, who were questioned and released at the scene.
However, after an ongoing Santa Ana Police investigation, the driver of that vehicle, 22-year-old Manuel Toscano, was charged with one felony count of accessory after the fact. He faces a maximum sentence of three years in state prison if convicted.
Maria and Ricardo Rocha turned themselves in to Santa Ana Police on Feb. 18, 2011.
Maria is charged with one felony count of murder with sentencing enhancements for the vicarious discharge of a firearm causing death by a gang member and criminal street gang activity. If convicted, she faces a maximum sentence of 50 years to life in state prison. She has a pre-trial hearing scheduled for July 24 in Santa Ana.
Sanchez faces the same maximum sentence if convicted of one felony count of murder with a sentencing enhancement for the personal discharge of a firearm causing death. His jury trial is scheduled to being Sept. 18 in Santa Ana.
Opening statements in Ricardo Rocha's jury trial are scheduled to being some time today at the same Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.
UPDATE, JUNE 28, 12:15 P.M.: An Orange County Superior Court jury Wednesday found gang member Ricardo Guerra Rocha guilty of the unprovoked shooting-murder of 35-year-old Esteban Navarrete outside of Mariscos La Ola restaurant in Santa Ana on Feb. 13, 2011.
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Rocha, 19, was convicted on one felony count of murder, one felony count of street terrorism, and sentencing enhancements for the vicarious discharge of a firearm causing death by a gang member and criminal street gang activity.
He faces a maximum sentence of 40 years to life in state prison at his Sept. 7 sentencing.
His sister, Maria Isabel Rocha, 30, has a pre-trial hearing scheduled for July 24. The trial for alleged triggerman Ivan Sanchez, 23, is set to begin Sept. 18.