Chris Pedroza-DeSantiago isn’t sure who will be representing him on murder charges, but he went ahead and entered an innocent plea Tuesday in Franklin County Superior Court.
Pedroza-DeSantiago, 20, is accused of killing Juan C. Melgoza on Feb. 4 in front of Fiesta Foods in Pasco.
Pedroza-DeSantiago is charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and illegally gun possession. His trial is set for July 15.
The bicounty Office of Public Defense had assigned the case to Kennewick attorney Scott Johnson. Then, Norma Rodriguez, also of Kennewick, told the court last week that she’d been talking with Pedroza-DeSantiago’s family about being his lawyer.
On Tuesday, Pedroza-DeSantiago returned to court and said he thought Johnson and Rodriguez were his attorneys.
Rodriguez — who was not in the courtroom when the case was first called — told Judge Alex Ekstrom that Pedroza-DeSantiago was working on hiring her, but had not done that as of Tuesday morning.
Johnson was not in court, so Rodriguez said she would stand in for him while Pedroza-DeSantiago entered a plea.
Ekstrom said he cannot hear the case if Johnson stays on it.
The judge has recused himself from Johnson’s cases. Johnson handled the campaign for his longtime friend and former fellow prosecutor when Ekstrom ran for Benton County District Court in 2010.
At least two dozen people were in court Tuesday to support Melgoza’s family. Two of his sisters wore bright pink shirts memorializing Melgoza with his picture.
Pedroza-DeSantiago’s wife and his family also attended the hearing.
Pasco police and Franklin County prosecutors allege that Pedroza-DeSantiago used a .40-caliber pistol to shoot Melgoza.
Prosecutors claim the two men reportedly got into a heated argument after Pedroza-DeSantiago spotted Melgoza, 42, wearing a rival gang color in a grocery store parking lot.
Pedroza-DeSantiago — a convicted felon and a documented gang member — left the lot, but returned to the store about eight minutes later to shoot Melgoza in the back, according to court documents.
Also charged is Abraham Barajas, 15, of Pasco, who claims he participated because he needed to “put in work” for the gang.
Barajas told detectives that Pedroza-DeSantiago contacted him to meet up near the store, then the two argued about who would pull the trigger, documents said.
Pedroza-DeSantiago is in the Franklin County jail on $500,000 bail.
Barajas is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. He is in the Juvenile Detention Center on $250,000 bail.