Hearing continued for drive-by murder suspects - Morgan Hill Times: Crime Fire Courts

Hearing continued for drive-by murder suspects

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Posted: Monday, February 11, 2013 3:31 pm | Updated: 3:39 pm, Mon Feb 11, 2013.

A preliminary hearing for five young men accused of killing Sobrato High School freshman Tara Romero, 14, in a Nov. 4, 2011 drive-by shooting was continued to a later date Monday, authorities said. 

Esmeling Bahena, 18 of Morgan Hill; Ricardo Diaz, 19 of Morgan Hill; Fernando Mateo Lopez, 20 of Gilroy; Primitivo Hernandez, 23 of San Jose; and Ramon Gutierrez, 17 appeared at the Hall of Justice in San Jose Monday for a preliminary examination. 

However, the hearing, in which the judge will determine if there is enough evidence for the suspects to stand trial, was rescheduled for May 13, according to Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Peter Waite. 

The five suspects are charged with murder and attempted murder, with a special circumstance for being associated with an illegal street gang. They pleaded not guilty in November, more than a year after the crime in which policy say four innocent victims were mistakenly targeted as members of a rival street gang. 

Police say the five men drove by the corner of Cosmo and Del Monte avenues Nov. 4, 2011 and opened fire on a crowd of teenagers standing in a grassy area next to the Village Avante apartment complex. 

Romero, 14, was pronounced dead at the scene when paramedics arrived, police said. 

Injured by the gun fire were three of Romero’s friends - Rosa Castaneda, 14, Alicia Sotelo, 15, and Chris Loredo, 16, according to authorities. All of the victims were students at Sobrato High School at the time. 

While the suspects are thought to be associated with a criminal street gang and carried out the shooting for that gang, police have said the victims are not associated with any gang-related activity and were likely targeted by mistake. They were waiting at the intersection for a ride home from a birthday party at the nearby Community Park.

The suspects were arrested at a Barnell Avenue residence, shortly after a Morgan Hill officer saw the vehicle speed through a nearby stop sign moments after the shooting, police said. 

All five suspects remain in custody at Santa Clara County Jail. 

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