Two plead no contest to shooting students

Men get prison time in carjacking attempt

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comOctober 4, 2012 

— Two defendants accused of shooting at a car last year and injuring two UC Merced students will be headed to prison after reaching plea agreements with prosecutors Wednesday.

Gregory Anthony Villa, 17, and Paul Diandre Pittman, 21, pleaded no contest in the shootings that happened during the early hours of Aug. 24.

The victims, ages 23 and 19 at the time, and their driver had left a party about 4 a.m. in north Merced and were on their way to a fast-food restaurant in a BMW, according to police.

Police believe the motive for the shooting was an attempted carjacking. The driver of the BMW had slowed for a red light. Police suspect that Villa and Pittman were on foot, trying to block the path of the BMW.

Villa fired seven times at the car. One of the victims was struck by a bullet, and the other was grazed. They survived. The car's driver wasn't hit, according to court records.

Villa pleaded no contest Wednesday to three counts of attempted murder and two counts of attempted carjacking, according to Deputy District Attorney Gerad Egan. Villa also was convicted of using a firearm in the commission of a felony.

He'll be sentenced to 28 years in prison based on the plea agreement. Villa was 16 at the time but charged as an adult.

Pittman pleaded no contest to two counts of attempted robbery and one count of shooting into an occupied vehicle. Pittman will be sentenced to seven years, four months in prison under the agreement.

Both will be eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of their sentences.

The defendants' case had been scheduled for trial by jury this month.

Egan said Pittman will receive a shorter sentence because he wasn't the shooter and played a lesser role in the crime.

Egan said the defendants didn't know the victims and the attempted carjacking was random. "The person who did the shooting was held accountable for what happened," Egan said. "Of course, you wonder why someone would do something like this. There's no logical explanation."

David Capron, Pittman's attorney, said his client had faced substantially more prison time before the plea agreement because he had been charged with attempted carjacking, attempted murder and other charges.

Capron pointed out his client, who's from Alameda County, had no previous criminal record and met Villa the day of the shooting.

Capron said his client wrote a letter to the victims, saying he was sorry they were injured by Villa. "I think he accepts the resolution, and he's going to do his time and return to Oakland," Capron said,

Villa's attorney, Christopher Caine, couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

The night of the shooting, 15 minutes before the UC Merced students were fired upon, the defendants tried to carjack a Sun-Star newspaper carrier at the same location in the same manner, according to the prosecution.

The carrier reported she had stopped for a light at the intersection. One man tried to block her path, and the other held his hand near his waist area, as if he had a firearm. The woman feared being carjacked and was able to drive away unharmed, according to a police report.

Witnesses in the area identified Pittman and Villa as the men involved in the incidents. Police received tips Villa had told several people that he had committed the shooting, saying that he had gotten a new Glock 40 and wanted to "try it out."

Police traced the shell casings to a stolen gun in Villa's possession.

Pittman claimed he met Villa at a party prior to the shooting.

Both are scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 31 by Judge Ronald Hansen.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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