A gang member convicted of attempted murder in his retrial for shooting and seriously wounding a Cathedral City bar patron attacked without provocation will likely receive life in prison when he’s sentenced next month.
A Murrieta jury on Monday convicted 40-year-old Tomas Lucio Zaragoza of Desert Hot Springs of the attempted murder count, as well as firearm assault and multiple sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations for the 2017 attack on Mike Avila.
A separate jury in Zaragoza’s first trial in April 2021 convicted him of criminal street gang activity, but deadlocked on the other counts.
Jurors in the retrial deliberated about two days before returning with unanimous verdicts.
During a post-trial scheduling hearing Tuesday, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Timothy Freer set a sentencing hearing for June 9 at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta. The life prison sentence would still leave the defendant eligible for parole.
Zaragoza is being held in lieu of $1 million bail at the Byrd Detention Center.
The defendant 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 said Zaragoza entered the business and immediately opened fire with a semiautomatic handgun, inadvertently shooting one patron in the foot, and wounding Avila. The trouble started because the gang members perceived the victim, 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. Zaragoza said he raised his shirt to reveal his pistol and force Avila to back down, but the victim then went for the handgun, causing a single gunshot to be fired.
All of the defendants ran away immediately afterward but were apprehended at a Banning gas station two days later.
Avila underwent multiple surgeries and was hospitalized for several months, according to trial testimony.
Court records show Zaragoza has felony convictions that include domestic assault and theft.