A gang member was sentenced Friday to 55 years to life in prison for his part in the killing of a 9-year-old Anaheim girl who was shot while playing in front of her home.
Alfredo Miguel Aquino, 25, and co-defendant Ricardo Cruz, 24, were convicted May 30 of second-degree murder, participating in gang activity, possession of a gun by a felon and possession of a gun in a school zone, all felonies. Jurors found true sentencing enhancement allegations of gang activity for both defendants.
For Cruz, jurors found true a sentencing enhancement for the personal discharge of a weapon. He was sentenced in October to 70 years to life in prison for firing the shot that killed Ximena Meza on Oct. 22, 2014.
Though he was not the shooter, Aquino helped Cruz pull off the crime, Deputy District Attorney Jeff Moore said in a sentencing brief.
“An innocent 9-year-old girl was murdered because of the actions of defendant and Cruz,” Moore wrote. “Defendant provided the means for Cruz to commit the crime and had the knowledge that Cruz was armed. There is also evidence in the record (that) defendant said he went into rival gang territory to shoot a rival gang member because he had a prior beef with them.”
Aquino “didn’t pull the trigger (but) his involvement underscores the danger when gang members come together to commit crimes,” Moore wrote. “Defendant and Cruz were united in purpose, were seeking a common goal and worked together to accomplish it. And as it goes, one had to be the driver and one had to be the shooter.”
Aquino has committed 10 rule violations while in custody, with nine of them considered major, according to Moore.
Just before the two defendants were convicted in May, Cruz attacked Aquino, setting off a brawl in the courtroom. After deputies separated the two, Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett had the verdicts read separately for each defendant.
Aquino’s attorney, Ken Morrison, said then that it was “ironic that Mr. Cruz would assault my client in the courtroom, because Mr. Aquino’s testimony was the only thing that saved Mr. Cruz from a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.”
Morrison had Aquino testify in the trial to reject the prosecution’s legal theory that the pair went out “hunting” for gang rivals when the victim was caught in the crossfire.
Jurors were instructed to consider a full range of verdicts from first-degree special circumstances murder to involuntary manslaughter.
Ximena was playing with her 5-year-old sister and 7-year-old brother outside their home at 2303 Greenacre Ave. when shots rang out from a 1996 Chevrolet Lumina about 7:15 p.m. on Oct. 22, 2014.
The children managed to scramble inside the home, and Ximena’s father noticed his older daughter had a “surprised look on her face” and he bent down to be at eye-level with her, Moore told the jury.
When the girl’s father placed his hand on her waist, he felt blood and “knew she was shot,” he said. The father ran out of the house holding his daughter and shouting for help, the prosecutor said, but she died in his arms from a through-and-through bullet wound, Moore said.
“The two men who murdered that little girl are sitting right in front of you,” Moore told the jury, pointing to the defendants. “Ximena Meza became collateral damage in their gang warfare.”
Aquino was behind the wheel of the car when Cruz stepped out of the passenger side and opened fire on rival gang members, Moore said.
Aquino’s attorney said the girl’s killing was a “horrible, very sad tragedy,” but argued his client was not guilty of intending or planning to kill anyone.
“Even though it was clearly accidental, she was shot to death due to a stupid, senseless act that was apparently motivated out of a desire to intimidate a rival gang,” Morrison said in his opening statement.
Aquino and Cruz, who were friends, ran into each other at an internet cafe earlier that day and decided to drive around listening to music, he said. At some point, Aquino drove him home, where Cruz put on a black hoodie and returned to the car, declaring, “I’m packing,” Morrison said. In other words, Cruz was informing Aquino that he was carrying a gun.
Cruz also picked up a spray paint can left in the car by someone else and began directing Aquino to drive to rival gang territory, where they stopped five times so Cruz could “tag” a wall with gang graffiti, Morrison alleged.
He claimed Aquino, who had been working at a Wienerschnitzel to support his toddler son, was not aware of Cruz’s intentions, but made the mistake of not telling his friend to get out of the car when he said he had a gun.
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