A gang member-turned-informant wearing a wire helped detectives with a key break in the investigation into a September 2009 gunshot slaying, according to testimony Monday, the first day of the preliminary hearing for three young Watsonville men accused of killing Richard Eddie Campos.
Jose Meza, Angel Antonio Moreno Torres and Joel Sanchez all are charged in connection with the killing. All have pleaded not guilty.
Eighteen months ago, Campos was sitting in a parked red coupe on Roache Road at Carey Avenue—in front of his father's house—when gang members approached him and open fire. The 21-year-old was hit three times in the chest and died at the scene.
On Monday, Meza, Torres and Sanchez were in front of Judge Ariadne Symons for the hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to hold the three men for trial.
Watsonville police officer Juan Trujillo testified Monday afternoon that another member of the gang that Meza, Torres and Sanchez allegedly belong to became a police informant and helped officers investigate Poorside Watsonville, a Sureno gang affiliated with the color blue.
Julian Melgoza, who was arrested for unrelated crimes, helped officers investigate Poorside for months. First, he led detectives to a hangout along an irrigation route in a San Andreas Road strawberry road. There, officers set up a motion-sensor surveillance camera to monitor gang meetings, Trujillo said in court. Police reportedly documented several Poorsiders in the field, including Sanchez.
Later, Melgoza agreed to wear a wire that transmitted live to police and also carry a digital recorder while meeting with Sanchez, Trujillo said. The officer said the two gang members talked at the home of Sanchez's family on Martinelli Street while watching a documentary about the Mexican Mafia, the organization that spawned Sureno gangs.
During the conversation, Sanchez allegedly told Melgoza that he had been involved in killing Campos, the officer testified.
Sanchez allegedly said he drove the get-away vehicle while two other gang members, known as Psycho and Spider, were the shooters, Trujillo said. Police later traced those monikers back to Meza and Torres, respectively, Trujillo testified.
The deadly shooting had been a gang initiation where "recruits" were "jumped in" by looking for rival gang members and committing acts of violence, Trujillo went on to say.
Another gang informant, Christian Ramirez, told police that Torres had bragged to him about killing Campos and even flashed the grip of a handgun—which he claimed to have used in the shooting—during the conversation, Trujillo said.
After Campos was killed, his mother told the Santa Cruz Sentinel her son might have been a wannabe but wasn't a gang member. He was in Watsonville for the summer and planned to return to Texas, where she lived, but was killed weeks before the move.
In court Monday, his mother broke into tears when a defense attorney showed an autopsy photo of Campos to the court audience, comprised of Campos' parents and about 20 people there to support the three defendants.
The preliminary hearing for Meza, Torres and Sanchez continues at 9 a.m. Tuesday and is expected to last much of the week. The three men are being held in Santa Cruz County Jail.