Jose Felix Zepeda did not pull the trigger on the gun that killed 29-year-old Leder Vazquez Sanchez about a half-mile from Disneyland on April 25, 2012, but Zepeda is the only one of several defendants to be convicted of first-degree murder in the case. A jury Thursday found Zepeda, a 41-year-old drug supplier out of Los Angeles, guilty of special circumstances murder during the commission of a kidnapping, kidnapping for ransom, reward, extortion, or to exact from another person money and other valuable things, and conspiracy to sell methamphetamine with a sentencing enhancement for possession of a substance to distribute exceeding one kilogram.
The bloody saga began with a plan by drug dealers to steal $24,000 worth of meth from other drug dealers. Alma Lopez Trinidad, 27, put the scheme in motion by introducing her co-horts Sanchez, who police earlier referred to as Luis Arreola, and Juan Carlos Carranza, 26, to the mark, 28-year-old drug dealer Agustin Vazquez Velazquez.
Sanchez and Carranza went in one vehicle and Mario Ramirez Ortega a second one to Montebello to "buy" three pounds of meth from Velazquez and Kain Espinoza, 28. Ortega hung back as the lookout. Velazquez and Espinoza had their own lookout, Zepeda. Sanchez and Carranza robbed the dealers at gunpoint and tied them up with shoe laces, but Velazquez broke free and ran out to Zepeda, who spotted Ortega, chased him, abducted him and forced him at gunpoint to lead him and several others back to Anaheim.
Carranza spotted Zepeda and his band of merry thugs and split, but Sanchez was shot twice in the back, staggered a few doors down from his residence and died. Zepeda got back the drugs from Sanchez's roommates and then decided to "extort" Ortega, Velazquez and Espinoza out of $5,000. But that plan fell apart when Anaheim police investigating Sanchez's death linked a cell phone the dead man had on him to Ortega, who went on to help detectives set up a sting that netted Zepeda, Velazquez, Espinoza and his girlfriend, Rocio Alejandra Badilla.
Carranza and Trinidad pleaded guilty in January to robbery charges, but he got 14 years in prison to her three years because he also copped to a sentencing enhancement for using a gun. In December, Velazquez and Espinoza pleaded guilty to conspiracy and admitted to a sentencing enhancement for possession of drugs. They are scheduled to be sentenced later this month. Badilla pleaded guilty to extortion and was sentenced to three years in prison, or the amount of time she'd served in custody awaiting trial.
Zepeda faces a maximum sentence of two life terms in state prison without the possibility of parole at his May 16 sentencing hearing in Santa Ana.