Four men alleged to have been involved in a brutal stabbing in 2011 took plea bargains Friday morning that will send them to state prison with sentences ranging from three years to 19 years. A fifth defendant is expected to enter a plea Monday morning.
The five had been facing life in prison for the attack, which left the victim, an alleged Eastside gang member, with 21 stab wounds.
According to authorities, the group — Juan Maldonado, Juan Carlos Villa, Richard Pineda, Richard Soto, and Robert Aldaz — went out searching for a rival gang member in Eastside territory in the evening of March 30. Unable to find one, they headed back to the Westside, where Soto was dropped off. The four remaining returned, according to testimony at a preliminary hearing, where they attacked the 19-year-old victim on the 1200 block of Cacique Street.
Authorities said Soto purchased the knives used in the attack, but interviews with the other defendants indicated he was not with them at the time of the stabbing. Soto wasn’t charged with attempted murder, but did face a charge of conspiracy to commit murder, which carries with it just as hefty a prison sentence. For a conspiracy to commit murder charge, prosecutor Kimberly Smith would have needed to prove there was an agreement among the perpetrators to kill and also act in furtherance of the crime. A coconspirator does not have to be present when the crime takes place, however.
Aldaz was pulled over for a minor traffic violation the day after the attack, and a search of his vehicle turned up marijuana brownies, a marijuana pipe, plastic packaging for two knives, and a single knife, as well as black gloves and a knit cap. According to Det. Michael Claytor’s testimony at a preliminary hearing, there were large stains of what appeared to be blood on the seats.
Other defendants, while they initially denied involvement, admitted to being present. Maldonado allegedly told police that Aldaz was interested in “putting in work” for the Westside gang, and that Aldaz struck the victim with a baseball bat while Villa stabbed the victim.
The disposition of each defendant’s case Friday morning was dependent on the others taking the deal, and while it appeared some struggled with the decision to accept prison time rather than risk going to trial and face life in prison, ultimately everyone agreed to a plea deal.
Maldonado, 19, pleaded no contest to attempted murder with a gang enhancement and street terrorism. He will receive 17 years in state prison, along with two strikes under the state’s three strike rules.
Villa and Pineda, 18, each pleaded no contest to attempted murder with a special allegation of a gang enhancement. Pineda — who, along with Maldonado, was a minor at the time of the incident but was charged as an adult — will receive 15 years in state prison; Villa will head to prison for 19 years.
Soto, 23, pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit assault likely to produce great bodily injury and a count of street terrorism. He will receive three years in state prison. But because of time served, Soto will be out November 29, his attorney Doug Hayes said.
Aldaz is expected to enter a plea deal Monday morning. After a long morning working out the details of the plea, his attorney was unable to be present once the time came to enter a plea.
The variety of prison terms is “based upon the circumstances of the offense and their role or involvement in the offense,” Smith said.
The five men will be sentenced on August 27.