The prosecution is expected to rest before the end of this week in the retrial of a gang member accused of shooting and seriously wounding a Cathedral City bar patron, who came under attack because he, his wife and others were considered unwelcome guests at the business, according to prosecutors.
Last year, a Murrieta jury deadlocked on charges of attempted murder, firearm assault and multiple sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations, while convicting 40-year-old Tomas Lucio Zaragoza of Desert Hot Springs of criminal street gang activity.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office immediately decided to retry Zaragoza on the counts on which jurors hung.
Retrial testimony got underway last week at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta, and the prosecution has called a stream of witnesses. The last of the D.A.’s office witnesses are likely to testify before Friday.
Zaragoza took the stand in his own defense in April 2021. It remains to be seen whether he will do so again for the retrial.
He’s being held in lieu of $1 million bail at the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta.
The defendant allegedly shot Mike Avila in the hand and stomach during an argument at the former Block Sports Bar & Grill at Ramon Road and Date Palm Drive on the night of July 26, 2017. The business has since been renamed Henry’s Sports Bar & Grill.
Zaragoza’s three co-defendants — Andrew Monroy, 27, and Carlos Rodriguez, 30, both of Cathedral City, along with Ricky Ceballos, 29, of Desert Hot Springs — pleaded guilty in 2020 to assault resulting in great bodily, as well as gang-related sentence-enhancing allegations. Each man was sentenced to eight years in state prison.
According to Deputy District Attorney Jenna Barsamian, Ceballos, Monroy and Rodriguez got into an argument with Avila at the bar that led to fisticuffs. The victim was there celebrating his wife’s birthday
The prosecution alleged Zaragoza entered the business and immediately opened fire with a semiautomatic handgun, inadvertently shooting one patron in the foot, and wounding Avila in the hand and stomach.
The trouble started over nothing more than the gang members perceiving the man, his wife and friends as encroaching on their turf, according to investigators.
Witnesses told Cathedral City police that Avila yelled just before the shooting, “Hey, I don’t even know who you are. I just want to leave.”
Zaragoza testified in April 2021 that his gun discharged because the victim tried to grab it.
“I never even aimed it at him,” the defendant said.
Zaragoza said that he was smoking outside when he heard the commotion in the bar and entered to find the victim holding a pool cue.
“He was ready to (expletive) somebody up,” the defendant said.
Zaragoza said that he raised his shirt to reveal his pistol and force Avila to back down.
He testified that Avila then went for the handgun, unsuccessfully, causing a single gunshot to be fired.
However, the defendant admitted to intentionally firing several shots at a wall, but insisted it was done to defuse the situation.
All of the defendants fled immediately afterward but were apprehended at a Banning gas station two days later.
Avila underwent multiple surgeries and was hospitalized for several months after the shooting, according to trial testimony.
Court records show Zaragoza has felony convictions that include spousal abuse and theft.