A gang member and three associates were all sentenced Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the shooting death of a 22-year-old Indio man in a gang-related drive-by attack stemming from a dispute at a cemetery.
An Indio jury in February convicted Cesar Anthony Monzon, 29, Angel Zacarias Lopez, 31, Andrew Marquie Malanche, 28, and Jose Antonio Armendariz, 35, of the 2016 murder of Adrian Valdez.
Along with first-degree murder, each defendant was convicted of gang activity and sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations. The jury also found true a special circumstance allegation against Monzon of killing for the benefit of a gang, while the panel found true a special circumstance allegation of firing from a vehicle causing death against his co-defendants.
Monzon was the only documented gang member among the four, according to prosecutors.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Otis Sterling denied a defense motion for a new trial prior to sentencing the men.
Deputy District Attorney Jacob Silva said there was a dispute at the gravesite of Lopez’s cousin before the defendants targeted Valdez. He was standing with a group of people, some of whom were known gang members, outside a home in the 82600 block of Mountain View Avenue when the shooting happened shortly before 1 a.m. on Aug. 7, 2016.
Security surveillance videotape from an Indio 7-Eleven showed the occupants of a Chevrolet Caprice and a Toyota Sequoia congregating at the convenience store, then going to the Mountain View property.
A security camera mounted on a nearby home captured gunfire coming from both sides of the Toyota, while the driver of the Chevrolet sped away eastbound. Silva conceded during the trial that it was unclear who fired the fatal shot.
Between 10 and 15 people were standing with Valdez at the time, and Armendariz’s attorney, John Dolan, argued that gunfire originating from within the group could have struck Valdez.
Armendariz, who police said was driving the Toyota, was arrested Aug. 8, 2016. Three bullet holes were found on the exterior of the SUV, and ammunition was found inside, according to the prosecution.
Lopez and Malanche went to nearby JFK Memorial Hospital hours after the attack. Malanche was hospitalized with a single gunshot wound that entered through his backside, while Lopez was treated for a graze wound.
Police were notified, and officers seized a backpack belonging to Lopez that he had dropped near the emergency room. The satchel contained two handguns and nearly 100 rounds of ammunition, according to an Indio police affidavit filed in support of an arrest warrant.
According to the declaration, Lopez told police he was inside the Chevrolet during the shooting, but he did not admit to taking part.
Malanche told detectives he was driving by the Mountain View Avenue home with Lopez when they were fired upon. Malanche said he was “scared” and that he and Lopez fired several shots at their attackers in retaliation, according to the affidavit.
Malanche’s attorney, Jose Rojo, told jurors at the outset of the trial that his client had only been in the Coachella Valley “for a month before the shooting” and had “never been in trouble before, never been in gangs before, even though he grew up in Indio.”
Prosecutors said Monzon fled following the shooting and was arrested three weeks later when a fugitive task force located him in Mexicali, Mexico.
Detectives were tipped to Monzon’s involvement after a parole officer told them Monzon had cut off his GPS ankle monitor on the night of the shooting, according to court papers.
His movements just prior to the shooting brought him to within 40 yards of the Mountain View Avenue residence, investigators said.
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