Juan Carlos Melgoza was gunned down three months ago in a Pasco parking lot because he was wearing rival gang colors, according to court records.
Melgoza and his alleged killer, Chris Pedroza-DeSantiago, initially got into a heated verbal argument outside Fiesta Foods. The two walked away from it, but an angry Pedroza-DeSantiago reportedly couldn’t let it go.
Pedroza-DeSantiago, a 20-year-old active gang member from Pasco, enlisted the help of a teen associate, returned with “vindictive desires” and shot Melgoza in the back, records said.
“About eight minutes after the red-colored clothing confrontation, Pedroza-DeSantiago returned to the store’s parking lot accompanied with death in his mind and (Abraham) Barajas at his side,” Pasco Detective Tony Aceves wrote in an affidavit.
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On Thursday, Pedroza-DeSantiago was taken into custody during a traffic stop near 27th Avenue in Kennewick just minutes after a warrant was filed in Franklin County Superior Court.
He is charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. He is held on $500,000 bail and is scheduled to make his first court appearance May 8.
Barajas, 15, is doing time in Juvenile Detention Center for violating his conditions in an unrelated case. He also is held on suspicion of first-degree murder and criminal conspiracy, police said.
Investigators broke open the case Wednesday after talking to Pedroza-DeSantiago’s former girlfriend, who had been with him at the grocery store, and Barajas, who allegedly later met up with Pedroza-DeSantiago and helped plan to “dump the fool.”
Melgoza, 42, was gunned down about 8:40 p.m. Feb. 4 as adults and kids crowded the parking lot. Police found Melgoza on the ground with several gunshot wounds. He was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics. An autopsy determined he likely died instantly.
Police tried to track the suspects with a dog, but the search was unsuccessful.
Part of the shooting was captured on surveillance cameras. Video footage showed two suspects walking south across the lot, appearing to exchange words with Melgoza. The exchange was brief and uneventful but, seconds after continuing on, one of the suspects went back toward Melgoza and fired several .40-caliber rounds, court documents said. Melgoza then can be seen falling as the suspects run off.
In the days that followed, detectives learned Pedroza-DeSantiago and his then-girlfriend, Kristianna M. Salinas, had been shopping at Fiesta Foods. Surveillance video shows them going into the store and later leaving — that’s when Pedroza-DeSantiago stumbled across Melgoza and confronted him about his attire, documents said.
Salinas told police her boyfriend walked away from the initial confrontation “with great anger and vindictive desires,” court documents said. She was driving east on Columbia Street after leaving the store when Pedroza-DeSantiago jumped out of her vehicle while texting on his cellphone.
She went home, which is within blocks of Fiesta Foods, and a short while later heard several gunshots.
Salinas said moments after the gunshots and during the following days, Pedroza-DeSantiago called her numerous times and admitted shooting Melgoza, documents said. Her boyfriend also allegedly asked her on the night of the slaying to pick up him and Barajas at Barajas’ house, but she refused.
Salinas was released after talking to detectives.
Barajas, also questioned Wednesday evening, admitted getting texts from Pedroza-DeSantiago on Feb. 4 and agreeing to immediately meet him near Seventh Avenue and Columbia Street, one block from the store, Detective Aceves wrote. Barajas lives a few blocks away.
Aceves said Barajas “disturbingly” shared how the two argued about who would end Melgoza’s life, with them deciding that Pedroza-DeSantiago would carry out the hit, documents said.
The two walked to the parking lot. After passing Melgoza, Pedroza-DeSantiago turned around and yelled his gang’s name before allegedly firing several shots.
Barajas told investigators that the two suspects “ran southbound towards his house where they carried out the urban legend of wiping off gunshot residue from their hands by urinating on them,” court documents said.
Pedroza-DeSantiago made a call and an unknown person picked them up and drove them to a Kennewick home, where they spent the night and then parted ways in the morning, documents said.
Prosecutors filed the unlawful possession of a firearm charge against Pedroza-DeSantiago because he was convicted of a drive-by shooting in 2009 and is not allowed to have a gun, documents said.
Pedroza-DeSantiago appears to be a fellow gang member of Miguel A. Paniagua, a 23-year-old Pasco man charged last month with vehicular homicide for an April 2 high-speed, hit-and-run crash that killed a Kennewick father.
The two men can be seen posing together in Paniagua’s Facebook profile picture.
Barajas pleaded guilty Jan. 8 in Juvenile Court to third-degree assault and was ordered to do 64 hours of community service and three days in detention with credit for 27 days, according to court records. He violated a condition of his sentence, and on April 28 a judge ordered him to serve 14 days in detention with credit for one day.
If charged with Melgoza’s death, Barajas will have to go through a hearing in Juvenile Court to determine if he should be tried as an adult.