A Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday that the Watsonville men charged in connection with the killing of a Watsonville High School freshman last year will go to trial.
David Moreno Sanchez and Alejandro Alexis Rodriguez, have pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder charges, as well as gun and gang crimes.
Rodriguez, then 18, furnished the gun that Sanchez, then 19 used to fatally shoot Jesse Lopez and Jesse's friend, both 14, in a gravel turnout on Highway 152 near Hecker Pass the night of Dec. 10, according to testimony heard in court during the multi-day preliminary hearing.
"There is sufficient evidence to hold each of them over," Judge Ariadne Symons said, referring to Sanchez and Rodriguez, who have been jailed since December.
Uriel Ortiz and Carlos Valencia, two of the men charged with lesser crimes of gang participation, being an accessory after the fact and challenging others to a fight, also will see their cases go to trial, Symons ruled.
Ortiz, 18 at the time of the shooting, has been free on bail but was taken into custody by a court bailiff following Symons' ruling. Valencia, 20 when Jesse was killed, also has been behind bars since he was arrested. He is being held without bail due to an alleged immigration violation.
The fifth man, Juan Soto Gonzalez, became a police informant after his arrest and testified for several days of the hearing about what allegedly occurred the night of Dec. 10. He pleaded guilty to charges and it's expected he will sentenced to six years in state prison.
Soto Gonzalez, who is Valencia's cousin, testified that the shooting was initiation for Poor Side Watsonville, a Sureño gang. Jesse, who had ties to rival Norteño gangs, was targeted outside a quinceñera celebration at the county fairgrounds.
In making her ruling, Symons surmised Rodriguez's role in the violence like this: "certainly (he) instigated the entire situation, that is, luring the young man into the vehicle." She added that Rodriguez allegedly provided the gun Sanchez used.
The roles the other men played in the violence were less. According to testimony and remarks made by defense attorneys, Valencia became entangled in the deadly night when he did his car-less cousin, Soto Gonzlaez, a favor by driving him around and picking up friends.
Eventually, Valencia allegedly drove the getaway car from Watsonville to Santa Cruz, where the men were arrested.
Valencia's attorney, Peter Leeming, said his client had no history of gang involvement before the night Jesse was killed. "He's not a willing participant," the attorney said.
Soto Gonzalez also was, at times, behind the wheel. Ortiz reportedly purchased gas when the car was running low on fuel, according to testimony.
Defense attorney Charlie Stevens, who is representing Ortiz, argued that his client should not be jailed. He said the teen has been going to school to finish requirements for his high school diploma and worked all summer in the Pajaro Valley's strawberry packing industry.
Assistant District Attorney Steve Moore pushed for Ortiz's incarceration Wedneday, saying "I think he represents a substantial danger to the community."
Ortiz will be back in court Oct. 24 for a bail hearing; all four men return to court Oct. 31 to set a trial date.
For all of Patch's coverage of Jesse Lopez's death, click here.