Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff sentenced Jesus Manuel Rodriguez, 24, of Patterson, and Edgar Barajas, 25, of Modesto, on Tuesday, Sept. 4, to the maximum prison time allowed for a gang-related murder.
Rodriguez and Barajas were convicted in May 2011 of participating in the drive-by killing of teenager Ernestina Tizoc after school in Modesto’s Oregon Park in 2004. Witnesses testified that Tizoc was simply wearing a maroon blouse at the time of the crime and was not a member of the Norteño gang, whose favored color is red.
Rodriguez and Barajas, suspected members of the Sureños have been locked up since 2004, making their way through different court procedures before the sentencing became final this week.
Deputy District Attorney Tom Brennan said Tizoc’s mother, Manuela, was emotional at the sentencing. She told the court she had been robbed of her daughter by the two gang members and that all families had been damaged by the murder.
Though justice was served, there can be no closure for Tizoc’s family, Brennan said by phone Tuesday.
“Nobody wins. Not the Norteños, or the Sureños, or innocent bystanders,” he said. “And we’re still seeing these types of crimes today.”
Rodriguez and Tizoc, by law, will get no good time credits served for their crimes, meaning they will not be eligible for parole before 50 years for good behavior, Brennan said. They will be held in one of the highest-level maximum-security prisons in the state without the possibility of relief, he said. Which prison has not been established, Brennan said.
“They will be serving in the worst possible conditions for their crime,” he said.
A call to Rodriguez’s lawyer, Robert J. Winston, on Tuesday afternoon was not returned before press time.
Sentencing was originally scheduled Jan. 24, but the defense attorneys stalled the trial by filing a motion to have Rodriguez’s and Barajas’ convictions set aside.
Winston’s motion contained sealed evidence, so it is unknown what was inside. However, Barajas’ lawyer, Ernie Spokes, said in January that he and Winston wanted the judge to throw out testimony from police incriminating Barajas that allegedly came from Rodriguez because it was hearsay. Police testified during the trial that Barajas was driving the vehicle used in the crime.
Spokes said in January that defense attorneys have a right to cross-examine witness statements, but because Rodriguez opted to exercise his constitutional Fifth Amendment right against taking the witness stand, the information should have been dismissed.
• Nick Rappley can be reached at 892-6187, ext. 31, or firstname.lastname@example.org.