Two convicted in random shooting of students

10/04/2012 3:39 PM

10/04/2012 5:03 PM

Two defendants accused of randomly shooting at a car last year, 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, were convicted of shooting two UC Merced students during the early morning 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 police.

Police believe the motive for the shooting was an attempted carjacking. The driver of the BMW had slowed for a red light. Police believe Villa and Pittman, who were on foot, tried to block the path of the victims' BMW. Villa fired seven times at the car. One of the victims was struck by a bullet, while another was grazed, but both survived. The car's driver wasn't hit, according to court records.

Villa, the shooter, pleaded no contest Wednesday to three counts of attempted murder and two counts of attempted carjacking, according to Deputy District Attorney Gerad Egan. Villa was also convicted of using a firearm in the commission of a felony. He'll be sentenced to 28 years in prison. Villa was 16 at the time and charged as an adult.

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

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

The defendants' case had been scheduled for jury trial this month. Egan said Pittman will receive a smaller sentence because he wasn't the shooter, and played a lesser role in the crime.

Egan said the defendants didn't know any of 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'd been charged with attempted carjacking, attempted murder and additional charges.

Capron pointed out his client, who's from Alameda County, had no previous criminal record, and hadn't met Villa until the day of the shooting. Capron said his client did write 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 an return to Oakland," Capron said, Villa's attorney Christopher Caine was called Thursday morning, but couldn't be reached.

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

The carrier reported she'd stopped for a light at the intersection. One man tried to block her path, while the other held his hand near his waist area, as if he were brandishing 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 suspects. Police also received tips Villa had told several people that he'd committed the shooting, saying he'd gotten a new Glock 40 and wanted to "try it out."

Police also traced the shell casings to a stolen gun in the possession of Villa.

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

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