The killing of a 42-year-old Pasco man because he was wearing a rival gang’s color was “truly a senseless act,” a judge said Monday.
Judge Alex Ekstrom questioned if 12 years and three months is sufficient time for Chris Pedroza-DeSantiago given his actions on Feb. 4, 2015, and his criminal history.
However, Ekstrom noted that the prison term is “the greatest sentence the court can impose” because it is the top of the range for first-degree manslaughter.
Pedroza-DeSantiago, 22, entered Alford pleas on Sept. 1 to the manslaughter — reduced from first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder — and first-degree illegal gun possession.
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The plea in Franklin County Superior Court means he denied committing the crime but believed prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him. It came nine days after his trial ended in a mistrial.
On Monday, what was supposed to be the start of his second trial, the gang member showed little reaction to the recommended sentence as he stood before the judge for 20 minutes.
Given the opportunity to comment, Pedroza-DeSantiago shook his head and said, “I don’t got nothing to say.”
He occasionally glanced back at the 12 loved ones of Juan Carlos Melgoza seated in the courtroom, including when they sobbed as the victim’s oldest sister talked about her family’s loss.
Martha Rodriguez Melgoza said her brother wasn’t perfect, but he looked after their parents and was the best uncle to his siblings’ kids.
She recalled the night her daughter ran into her room, saying “Tio Juan has been shot.” She called her sister for confirmation, and could hear their mother in the background screaming and asking to see and hold her son one more time.
“I cried like never before in my life. Our lives changed after that day. We were consumed by anger, questions and wanted justice for his death,” said Rodriguez Melgoza, choking back tears in court.
She said she has driven six hours round-trip to be with her family at each court hearing.
Now that the day came for sentencing, Rodriguez Melgoza said she’s not happy and no longer mad, but just saddened because nothing will bring back her brother.
“I have peace in my heart that his killer is going to be locked up and will never be allowed to hurt another family, like he has hurt ours by taking away my brother’s life,” she said. “I know my brother Juan is in a better place.”
“As for Chris Pedroza, I forgive him,” she added. “God is going to judge him when his time comes.”
A letter from their parents called Pedroza-DeSantiago “negligent, heartless and a coward,” and said what made it worse was that “the reasons behind his actions were based on a stupid color.”
Defense attorney Norma Rodriguez opted not to say anything more about the case, telling Ekstrom he heard her opening statement in trial.
Melgoza, a member of the Norteños, was seated at a table in front of Fiesta Foods when Pedroza-DeSantiago confronted him.
The Norteños associate with the color red, and Melgoza was very visible with a 4-foot-long stick wrapped in red lace and his red bicycle with a red bandana-covered seat.
The younger man, a member of Mexican Pride Sureños, had been shopping at the 10th Avenue store with his girlfriend.
The two rivals got into an argument, then Pedroza-DeSantiago left and asked a fellow gang member to return with him to the store.
Pedroza-DeSantiago and Abraham Barajas, 15, discussed who would shoot Melgoza before Pedroza-DeSantiago took the .40-caliber pistol, yelled “MPS” a few times for his gang name and fired a number of shots in the parking lot, according to prosecutors.
Rodriguez acknowledged in trial that her client had words with Melgoza and agreed to “get down,” or fight him.
But she said Pedroza-DeSantiago never intended for Melgoza to die, and claimed Barajas was the actual shooter.
One bullet hit Melgoza in the back and traveled through his body, damaging his heart and lungs before exiting out his torso.
Barajas, now 18, is locked up in a state juvenile institution until his 21st birthday after pleading guilty to first-degree assault and first-degree rendering criminal assistance.