Michael Escobar offers a verbal apology in Superior Court Thursday at his sentencing for a gang-related shooting that left a man and a young girl dead in 2014 at a popular Main Street restaurant. — Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

SANTA CRUZ—The man who gunned down a rival gang member and killed a 4-year-old girl in the crossfire nearly six years ago was sentenced Thursday to two consecutive terms of life without parole in state prison.

Michael Escobar, 36, also received more than 12 years for a handful of special allegations. 

The sentence came on the day that one of his victims, Ramon Rendon, would have turned 39. That was an unintended coincidence, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Timothy Volkmann said.

Rendon’s mother, who attended the hearing, asked a victim’s advocate to read a written statement.

“I will not ever forgive him for what he did,” the statement said. “Ramond was a happy boy. I miss his hugs.” 

“It hurts so much when we take flowers to his grave. I think he should burn in hell for what he did. He does not deserve to live one more day.”

Rendon’s sister Esperanza Rendon described learning of the shooting as “the worst day of my life.”

She added that Escobar has shown “no remorse whatsoever” during court proceedings in the five years since the shooting.

“He has brought so much pain to our family,” she said. “I hope he rots in hell for the rest of his life, even though for me that wouldn’t be enough.”

The shooting occurred on Oct. 14, 2014 outside the Valley Inn on Main Street in Watsonville. 

Escobar was at the nearby Fish House restaurant with several of his associates, and saw that a rival gang member was staying at the hotel. He left with fellow gang member Marcos Robles. They returned later wearing body armor and carrying guns.

The pair then shot and killed Rendon. A stray bullet entered the Fish House, striking Jaelyn Zavala and wounding the man who was holding her. Jaelyn later died.

Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney Johanna Schonfield said that Escobar refused to attend court hearings when she showed autopsy photos of the victims.

“…so that he didn’t have to look at the images of the wreckage that he inflicted on these families,” she said. 

“He has never expressed remorse for what he did,” Schonfield said. “I truly cannot think of a person more deserving of a sentence that he is going to receive. His entire adult life has been inflicting pain on others.”

For the first time since his 10-week trial began, Escobar spoke.

“There are no words to begin to describe the pain and sorrow the families have suffered,” he said. 

“I’m sorry. I’m not trying to minimize or justify my actions. Justice will be served.

“If I go to prison for the rest of my life, so be it. But there’s no words to describe the pain that I feel as well, given the circumstances.

“That’s the reality of the truth. Throughout the jury, throughout the process, I was unable to present my defense, present the evidence, present the facts. I don’t feel like I got a fair trial because of that. 

“Sorry. May this bring you some peace in time, and may it alleviate your pain, knowing that justice will be served.

“I’ll go to prison for life. Consider it miserable if you want, but you know it’s better to be alive.”

Schonfield said that Escobar’s words rang hollow.

“It proved exactly what I said about him, which is that he feels no remorse,” she said. “He couldn’t even articulate a genuine apology. It became about him, and that his perception of the trial was unfair and that it’s better for him to be alive than dead.”

Escobar’s attorney Jay Rorty said the picture created during the trial of his client as an “unfeeling monster” is inaccurate.

Rorty said that the jury didn’t hear many of the facts, including the “extraordinary history of abuse and neglect” he suffered as a child.

Escobar’s mother died when he was young, Rorty said, leaving him in the hands of an abusive stepfather.

At one point, Escobar and his siblings hid under a play structure for days until they were rescued by CPS workers, he said.

“The jury did not hear about Michael rocking his brother to sleep in their foster home when they crawled and huddled together for comfort,” Rorty said.

“We are more than one side, we are more than one thing, we are more than one act,” he said. 

But Volkmann said there were reasons that information was not heard by the jury, and said that the sentence is proper and appropriate.

“The sentence in this case from the court’s perspective is so clear, the facts are so clear, the law is so clear,” Volkmann said. 

Outside court, Schonfield said that two life sentences was “the sentence he deserved.”

“It’s been a long five years,” she said. “The time it takes can be frustrating, mostly because it drags things out for the victims’ family.”

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA. https://pajaronian.com/r-p-reporter-honored-by-csba/


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