Riverside Hall of Justice
The Riverside Hall of Justice. Courtesy County of Riverside

One Year Ago Today (September 9, 2020)…A Riverside man accused with a relative in the racially motivated murder of a partygoer in Moreno Valley is facing special circumstances allegations of targeting the victim because of his race and of lying in wait, a grand jury indictment unsealed shows.

Darren Peter Zesk, 19, was arrested and charged in February, along with his cousin, 19-year-old Jared Lee Zesk, in the slaying of 18-year-old Massai Cole of Inglewood.

In July, the defendants were both ordered to stand trail on charges of first-degree murder and sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations. Immediately after the preliminary hearing before Riverside County Superior Court Judge O.G. Magno, the prosecution said it turned up additional evidence against Darren Zesk, but declined to elaborate.

The evidence was presented to a grand jury, resulting in the indictment against only Darren Zesk, alleging in the two special circumstance allegations that make him eligible for capital punishment if he’s convicted and District Attorney Mike Hestrin decides to pursue the death penalty.

Jared Zesk is facing life in prison if convicted of the standing charges.

According to evidence presented at the preliminary hearing, the defendants were partying with others at a house in the 16500 block of Century Street, near Krameria Avenue, in the predawn hours of Feb. 2 when a fight erupted between Jared Zesk and another partygoer.

The Zesks then left the residence. However, 90 minutes later they returned, and Darren Zesk allegedly shot Cole at point-blank range, firing several bullets into the victim’s upper body. He died at the scene.

The Zesks returned to Riverside, where Darren Zesk was arrested without incident 30 minutes later on Huston Drive, according to sheriff’s officials. Jared Zesk was taken into custody three days later in Jurupa Valley.

Neither man has documented prior felony convictions.

Darren Zesk is due to appear for a trial-setting conference at the Riverside Hall of Justice on Sept. 18. He’s being held in lieu of $2 million bail at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside.

A post-preliminary hearing arraignment is scheduled for Jared Zesk on Oct. 19 at the same courthouse. He’s being held on $1 million bail at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.

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