A judge's gavel.
A judge’s gavel. Photo from Pixabay.

Jurors recommended the death penalty Friday for a San Jacinto gang member who fatally shot three men and tried to kill another because of their affiliations.

A judge is expected to uphold the jury’s recommendation when Raymond Alex Barrera, 27, is formally sentenced on Dec. 1.

The penalty phase of Barrera’s trial came to a close after nearly four weeks of testimony and two days of deliberations. He was convicted last month of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, and jurors found true special circumstance allegations of lying in wait, killing for the benefit of a criminal street gang and taking multiple lives. Barrera, an admitted member of the San Jacinto Valley’s oldest street gang, carried out the killings in the summer of 2013, picking most of his targets as they were walking along San Jacinto streets.

The defendant’s girlfriend, now-24-year-old Tawpash Paillia Durnin, pleaded guilty last year to voluntary manslaughter in connection with the attacks and is slated to be sentenced next week.

Prosecutors said Barrera was obsessed with eliminating rivals, as well as so-called “dropouts” who had deserted his gang and “snitches,” who had assisted law enforcement. Barrera’s own reputation had been marred because of prior cooperation with police, according to court papers.

The defendant’s first victim was Juan “Spooks” Perez, who was attacked while walking with a friend to the El Toro Market on Main Street to purchase beer on the night of June 27, 2013.

Barrera identified Perez as a dropout and ran up behind the young man, shooting him in the back of the neck, then attempting to shoot the friend, who managed to hide underneath a car to protect himself, according to prosecutors.

Perez died at the scene, and Barrera made his getaway in Durnin’s vehicle, with her at the wheel.

The defendant’s next target was a supposed police informant, Jose “Flaco” Venegas, gunned down on June 30, 2013. According to prosecutors, Barrera employed a ruse, involving Durnin, to get Venegas to a deserted location on the Soboba Indian Reservation, where he shot him twice and left his nude body in a ravine.

The third and final murder victim was Ruben “Toker” Zavala, a member of “Hemet 13,” which had been engaged in turf wars with Barrera’s gang, according to court papers.

Prosecutors said that Barrera, Durnin, then-17-year-old Robert Anthony Hernandez and another individual, identified in court papers only as “confidential informant,” were driving in Durnin’s Dodge Caravan on the night of July 8, 2013, when they encountered Zavala crossing the 300 block of West First Street.

Barrera shouted, “State your name and what you bang?” The young man tried to ignore the defendant, who jumped out of the van with Hernandez and chased the victim down, fatally shooting him with a .38-caliber pistol, prosecutors said.

Sheriff’s detectives spent several months investigating the murders, initially tying Barrera to one of the three. With the help of the confidential informant, Durnin and others, all of the killings were eventually solved.

Hernandez is awaiting trial for murder in juvenile court.

Barrera has served time in state prison. His prior convictions include illegal possession of a firearm and obstructing a law enforcement officer.

–City News Service

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