Gang shooting suspects near trial date

Michael Escobar of Watsonville makes an appearance in Superior Court Tuesday where efforts are underway for his jury trial. Escobar faces a number of felony charges, including murder, during an alleged fight outside a motel and restaurant on Main Street Oct. 10, 2014. (Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

SANTA CRUZ — The alleged triggermen in the 2014 gang shooting that left a 4-year-old girl dead made an appearance in court Tuesday morning, where a Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge set a Jan. 23 date, at which time prosecutors and defense attorneys will agree on a date for jury selection.

Michael Escobar, 35, and Marcos Robles, 26, are facing multiple felony charges for the Oct. 10, 2014 shooting. They face life in prison without parole if convicted.

Also in court Monday for his role in the shooting was Brandon Ruiz-Martinez, 24.

According to police, Escobar shot Ramon Rendon in front of the Valley Inn on the 900 block of Main Street. Rendon, 33, reportedly was the intended target. Stray bullets entered a nearby restaurant, striking Jaelyn Zavala, who was later pronounced dead.

Juan Cruz, 25, Gilberto Ponciano, 30, Roberto Ramirez, 26, and Jimmy Espinoza, 37, also allegedly took part in the shooting.

Ponciano, Ramirez and Cruz were each sentenced on Feb. 23 to eight years in prison after being convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and voluntary manslaughter. They were also convicted of promoting a criminal street gang, jail records show.

Police believe that Robles was with Escobar during the shooting, which detectives have said was gang-motivated.

Rendon’s girlfriend, Myra, told police that the couple lived together at the Valley Inn, where she was a manager and he was a maintenance worker.

On the night of the shooting, Myra was lying in bed watching television as Rendon stood outside talking to two friends.

At some point, Rendon ran inside and told Myra to call the police. After she did, Myra said she saw two men on the security monitor walking away from the hotel, and Rendon went outside to look.

As Myra stayed on the phone with emergency dispatchers, Rendon returned and told Myra that the men were still nearby and had a gun.

Soon, someone outside tried to kick in the door as they yelled “puro Norte,” a reference to the Norteño criminal street gang.

Rendon was described Tuesday as a dropout from a branch of the Sureño criminal street gang, a Norteño rival.

After the kicking stopped, Myra followed Rendon outside, where she saw a man “dressed as a bum” approach and shoot Rendon once as he tried to run away.

Rendon then tripped and fell, and Robles approached and shot Rendon five more times, police said.

Myra described Rendon’s body jerking with each shot.

The shooter then walked away toward a vehicle parked nearby.

Another man then approached, and asked whether Rendon was involved in a gang. Myra did not respond, and the second man kicked Rendon and walked to a vehicle that was parked in the lot.

Robles and Martinez were arrested in Mexico in 2014 and 2015, respectively.


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