A voice yelled "¡No, por favor, no!" as shots rang out in a gravel turnout on Highway 152 near Hecker Pass when gang members fatally shot a Watsonville High freshman and injured his teenage friend.
The detail was one of many that came out during testimony Wednesday at the preliminary hearing for four of the five alleged gang members accused in the gang slaying.
A fifth man originally charged with crimes related to killing Jesse Lopez, 14, and injuring his friend, then 14, has been on the witness stand for two days, sharing information about the inter-workings of the Sureño gang he belongs to and the deadly night on Hecker Pass.
The defendant-turned-witness, who Patch is not identifying for his protection, has made an agreement with the Santa Cruz County District Attorney's Office to testify in return for a lesser sentence on the crimes he has been charged with. It's expected he will serve six years in prison for two felonies: being an accessory to a gang crime and making gang-motivated challenges in public, according to testimony Wednesday.
This case the second time in recent years when gang members connected to a South County homicide turned on one another and became police informants.
In court Wednesday, the man said the Dec. 10 shooting was a gang initiation, known as a "jale". In court, he detailed the moments leading up to the shooting and what happened in the aftermath.
David Moreno Sanchez, then 19, and Alejandro Alexis Rodriguez, then 18, have pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder charges, as well as gun and gang crimes. Juan Soto Gonzalez, then 22, Uriel Ortiz, then 18, and Carlos Valencia, then 20, all face lesser charges.
Jesse was at a quinceñeara party at the county fairgrounds on East Lake Avenue the night of Dec. 10 when he reportedly met some of the men suspected in his slaying. They offered to take he and a friend out to socialize more, investigators have said. The two boys got into a car with their new acquaintances, drove up Highway 152 toward Hecker Pass.
But the car pulled off in a turnout about 4 miles from Watsonville and a second vehicle pulled up. Gunfire erupted and Jesse was mortally wounded. His friend was struck in the leg and ran into the woods to hide until help arrived. Jesse died later at Watsonville Community Hospital.
The man testifying Wednesday said he and other Sureño gang members in the two cars were communicating via cell phone and that Rodriguez was the one who directed them to drive into the mountains.
At one point in the night, one of the victims identified himself as "a Norteño from Landis," a street in Watsonville, the man testified.
Jesse's family has said he was not a gang member but Sheriff's Office detectives reported that he and his friend had gang ties. Norteños and Sureños are rivals.
In the turnout, the two cars parked end-to-end, both facing down the mountain toward Watsonville, according to testimony. Sanchez and Rodriguez got out of the first car car, changed clothes, then walked toward the second car. The man said he saw flashes—presumably the gunshots—and one of the shooting victims said "¡No, por favor, no!"
The man, who was in the first car, testified that he could still hear gunshots as his vehicle drove away. He identified Sanchez as the shooter.
Moments later, the two cars met up and all the men piled into one car with the intention of driving to Santa Cruz, according to testimony.
They watched ambulances speed past them as they drove. At one point, they had to stop for gas and Ortiz allegedly ponied up $10 cash, the man testified.
During the drive, they talked about the shooting.
"While we were on the road, they were telling us that we don't have to say anything and that we should erase their numbers, calls," the man testified, "that this was all between us."
The man testified that Sanchez also told the other men that "when we were ready to go and do our 'jale', the gun was there."
They smoked marijuana they allegedly stole from one of the shooting victims as drove into Santa Cruz. There, they posted up in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven near downtown, hoping to shoulder-tap someone to buy them beer while they waited for girlfriends to meet them, the man testified.
Instead, all five were arrested by Santa Cruz police for allegedly "mad-dogging" others in the parking lot. Within a day, they were linked to the Hecker Pass shooting.
The preliminary hearing continues Thursday and is expected to last for several more days. All of the men except for Ortiz, who is free on bail, remain in County Jail.
Judge Ariadne Symons will rule at the end of the preliminary hearing if there is enough evidence to take the case to trial.
For all of Patch's coverage of Jesse Lopez's death, click here.