A 41-year-old convicted killer was convicted Thursday of another murder for slashing the throat of his drug-dealing friend in Costa Mesa.
John Ramon Breceda was convicted of second-degree murder with a sentencing enhancement for the personal use of a deadly weapon and a felony arson count.
Jurors, who deliberated for about four hours, rejected first-degree murder. Breceda’s trial was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic as the courthouse was closed to help stem its spread, but jurors were recently called back to finish the case.
Breceda, who has a prior strike, is facing 31 years to life in prison. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.
Breceda, nicknamed Ghost, killed 44-year-old Floriberto “Beto” Villasenor Cortes of Santa Ana on May 30, 2015, said Senior Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown.
Cortes “was a drug dealer and not a very good one” because he had a habit of giving drugs to his customers and collecting money later, Brown said in her opening statement of the trial in March.
Cortes asked Breceda to be his “muscle” when he went to collect a drug debt from a customer in the 2900 block of Peppertree Lane, she said.
“The man who was supposed to be his muscle… turned on him,” Brown said. “Why? I don’t know. We may never know.”
Shortly before the attack, Breceda and his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Marcela Raye Gomez-Lee, went to a grocery store to shoplift a knife, Brown said.
Lee, who was once an Orange County Superior Court clerk, was charged as an accessory in the case, but testified with immunity in the trial, Brown said.
A witness called 911 at 4:36 p.m. to report Cortes’ stabbing, she said.
“He had a huge, gaping gash on the side of his neck” and was seen running and bleeding down the street before collapsing, Brown said.
“He coded in the ambulance on the way to the hospital,” Brown said.
Another man was seen leaving the scene “like a bat out of hell” in the victim’s car, she said.
A motel room key and a Domino’s pizza card found at the crime scene led investigators to Lee, who had rented a room at the Eagle Inn & Suites motel at 2255 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, Brown said.
Another break came because a Costa Mesa police officer had driven down Peppertree Lane 15 minutes before the attack and, as was his routine, captured license plates of cars he drove past in the area. That license plate also led police to the victim’s car, which was torched by the defendant in San Juan Capistrano, Brown said.
A sun visor in the victim’s car was discarded as Breceda sped away from the crime scene, and investigators later lifted the defendant’s fingerprint from it, Brown said.
Lee helped Breceda burn down the victim’s car, and after they left the scene, he told her to shut up and keep what happened to herself, Brown said.
Breceda’s attorney, Tom Nocella, argued it was a case of self-defense.
Nocella said his client was an “enforcer,” who helped drug dealers collect debts. Breceda, Lee, Cortes and another man smoked methamphetamine at the Anaheim motel room before the killing, Nocella said.
Breceda has a lengthy criminal history that includes a conviction for carjacking, possession of an assault weapon, possession of controlled substance with intent to sell and street terrorism with sentencing enhancements for gang activity, according to court records. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in June of 2007 to 10 years in prison.
Breceda was also a codefendant in the March 13, 1994, fatal shooting of 55-year-old Valentina Giles Roque in front of her home in Santa Ana. He was two weeks away from his 15th birthday when Roque was killed and attorneys for him and co-defendant Manuel Rojas got the charges dismissed in April 2009 based on their ages at the time of the shooting.
He and Rojas were not immediately charged after the Roque killing, but Santa Ana police revisited the case in 2008 and linked the two to the killing thanks to improved technology.
Breceda pleaded guilty in Juvenile Court Nov. 18, 2011. Rojas went on trial in Juvenile Court in October 2013 and was convicted in November of that year, but did not receive any time in custody because a judge cannot punish defendants older than 25 in juvenile court.
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