A panel of Fourth District Court of Appeal justices reversed first-degree murder convictions of two men involved in a 2010 gang-related shooting at one of the Taqueria De Anda shops in Santa Ana.
Ivan Derek Castaneda, 25, and Jesus Valdivia Cruz, 40, were convicted of murdering 22-year-old Jose Miguel Quiroz and attempting to murder his then-20-year-old cousin David Quiroz on July 25, 2010. Castaneda and Cruz were both sentenced to 82 years to life in state prison.
After attending a wedding, the Quiroz cousins and other family members went to Taqueria De Anda to continue the celebration. Castaneda and Cruz, who were drunk, confronted wedding guests with gang signs and asked which gang they belonged to, a practice known as a "hit-up," writes Justice Richard Fybel for the three-jurist panel.
"Someone from among the wedding guests replied, 'We just want to eat tacos. We don't want any problems,'" writes Fybel in the opinion. (Evidence was presented indicating no one in the wedding party belonged to a gang while other evidence showed several did, according to the panel's footnotes.)
The Los Compadres gang members told the wedding party they could not eat at that restaurant, prompting the group to begin to leave to avoid trouble. That's when a ruckus broke out. Castaneda shouted for help from other allies and then opened the door of one vehicle and punched David Quiroz, prompting the victim to fight back and knock Castaneda to the ground. More people joined the fray with Miguel Quiroz and another man kicking Castaneda when he tried to get up.
Associates arrived to help Castaneda, including a gunman who shot David Quiroz in the stomach and fatally shot Jose Quiroz.
The gunman was never identified, but Castaneda and Cruz were convicted of first degree murder and attempted murder under the legal theory of aiding and abetting the killing and attempted killing.
Fybel ruled and justices Kathleen O'Leary and William Bedsworth concurred that the men should have been convicted of murder and attempted murder in the second degree instead.
The justices cited a state Supreme Court ruling that held "an aider and abettor's liability for premeditated first-degree murder must be based on direct aiding and abetting principles." Evidence showed Castaneda and Cruz acted in a way that was likely, not certain, to result in a murder, the panel held.
The Cruz defense argued the evidence does not even support second degree murder and
second degree attempted murder convictions because none of the victims were gang member and there is nothing to suggest any ongoing rivalry or ill-will between Los Compadres and the victims.
But Fybel wrote, "It was not necessary for there to have been a rivalry between the victims and Los Compadres. … [A]nyone who is the subject of a hit-up, whether or not he or she is associated with a gang, faces violence for any perceived disrespect."
Justices also denied Cruz's allegations of misconduct by Orange County prosecutors in the case. It's now up to those prosecutors to either accept the second-degree murder and attempted murder convictions–and have Castaneda and Cruz re-sentenced to lesser punishment–or re-file first-degree murder and attempted murder counts under a different legal theory, the panel ruled.