SANTA CRUZ—Nearly seven years ago, a group of eight gang members gathered in a Main Street restaurant, where they socialized and drank before going outside to gun down a rival gang member at a nearby hotel in a planned attack.
The victim, Ramon Rendon, died on the scene, as did 4-year-old Jaelyn Zavala, who was struck by a stray bullet inside the Fish House restaurant.
On Friday, before their jury trial began, the final two defendants in the case pleaded guilty to numerous charges and will receive lengthy prison sentences.
Marcos Robles, now 29, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, firearms enhancements, gang allegations, felony assault and conspiracy to commit murder. He will be sentenced to 100 years to life in prison on Dec. 2, Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rosell said in a press release.
Brandon Ruiz-Martinez, 27, pleaded guilty to two counts of voluntary manslaughter and gang charges. He faces 25 years in prison when he is sentenced on Oct. 22.
Three other suspects in the case, Gilberto Ponciano, Roberto Ramirez and Juan Cruz, were sentenced on Feb. 23, 2018, to eight years in prison after being convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and voluntary manslaughter.
The shooting occurred on Oct. 14, 2014 outside the Valley Inn on Main Street in Watsonville.
Robles, Ruiz-Martinez, Michael Escobar and five others were at the nearby Fish House restaurant and saw that a rival gang member was staying at the hotel. Escobar and Robles left and returned later wearing body armor and carrying guns.
The pair then fatally shot Rendon.
After Rendon was down, Robles shot him in the back 10 times, Rosell said.
One of Escobar’s bullets entered the Fish House, striking Jaelyn and wounding the man who was holding her. The girl later died.
Robles fled to Mexico, where he was arrested and extradited in October 2015.
Escobar, who fired the bullet that killed the girl, refused to attend court hearings when autopsy photos of the victims were shown. He was sentenced in 2019 to two terms of life in prison without parole.
“The murders carried out on the night of October 10, 2014, were some of the most cold and calculated killings I have ever seen,” Assistant District Attorney Johanna Schonfield said in a press release. “The loss and devastation that these defendants caused on this community is unspeakable. I am grateful that justice has finally been served for the victims and their families and can only hope that these guilty pleas bring them some closure.”
Watsonville Police Sgt. Mish Radich, a 14-year veteran, said it was the most heinous murder he has seen.
“An innocent child’s life was lost in a senseless act, and we did everything we could to make sure that everyone involved was held accountable,” he said. “Now that this is all behind us essentially, we still have two lives that were lost that, regardless of the sentence they will never be back with their families.”