A 24-year-old man admitted that while protecting a large marijuana grow in the backyard of a Pasco home, he shot a teenage boy who was reaching over the fence to steal some buds.
Pedro Orta-Zuniga pleaded guilty last week in U.S. District Court to possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
He is facing about five years in prison, and likely will be deported to Mexico as a result of the federal conviction.
Pasco police responded late Oct. 1 to Lourdes Medical Center in Pasco for a report of a 16-year-old boy with a gunshot wound in his arm.
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The teen told officers that he and a friend had spotted a marijuana grow at a Madrona Avenue home and wanted to steal some of it, court documents show.
He reportedly climbed onto his friend’s shoulders and reached over the fence when multiple shots were fired at him from a man on the other side of the fence. He was hit by one bullet.
Police went to the home shortly after midnight and saw about 15 plants extending above the fence line.
Orta-Zuniga was found hiding in what officers described as a “forest” of large marijuana plants.
Police discovered a makeshift bed along the back fence of the property, along with Orta-Zuniga’s wallet, cellphone, charger and a flashlight, documents said.
A .22-caliber rifle was found under the bedding, and a stolen .24-caliber pistol was partially buried in dirt nearby. Two rounds were found underneath a plant where Orta-Zuniga had been hiding.
Orta-Zuniga admitted that he had “armed himself with the guns and slept in the backyard in order to protect the marijuana grow from theft,” court documents said.
When the Drug Enforcement Administration served a search warrant at the property several days later, agents seized the 15 plants and about 22 pounds of marijuana, documents said.
Orta-Zuniga initially was charged in Franklin County Superior Court with possessing a stolen firearm and two counts of alien in possession of a firearm.
That case was dismissed in January after he was indicted by a federal grand jury for manufacturing marijuana and possessing a firearm.
Brian Hultgrenn, a Franklin County deputy prosecutor, also handled the case in U.S. District Court in his role as a special assistant U.S. attorney.
Orta-Zuniga, in pleading guilty, admitted that he committed the crime of manufacturing marijuana and knowingly possessed a firearm.
The separate manufacturing charge will be dismissed at sentencing Nov. 10 before Judge Sal Mendoza Jr.
A co-defendant, Jose Isabel Chavez, has the same federal charges. His whereabouts are unknown.