Jury deliberations began Wednesday in the retrial of a gang member accused of shooting and seriously wounding a Cathedral City bar patron, who came under attack because the defendant allegedly did not want the victim, his wife and others at the business.
Tomas Lucio Zaragoza, 40, of Desert Hot Springs, is charged with attempted murder, firearm assault and multiple sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations for the 2017 attack on Mike Avila.
A Murrieta jury in Zaragoza’s first trial in April 2021 convicted him of criminal street gang activity, but deadlocked on the other counts, leading to the current retrial.
The prosecution and defense rested Wednesday morning following a week of testimony at the Southwest Justice Center. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Timothy Freer ordered the jury behind closed doors to begin weighing evidence, and the panel is slated to resume deliberations Thursday morning.
Zaragoza is being held in lieu of $1 million bail at the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta.
The defendant allegedly shot 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 because the gang members perceived 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 his first trial that his gun discharged because the victim tried to grab it.
The defendant said 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,” Zaragoza said.
He said that he raised his shirt to reveal his pistol and force Avila to back down, but Avila then went for the handgun, causing a single gunshot to be fired.
The defendant admitted intentionally firing several shots at a wall, insisting 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 domestic assault and theft.