An emotionally charged homicide trial ended Wednesday in Merced with a teenager convicted of first-degree murder after a day of deliberations that left some jurors in tears.
A Merced Superior Court jury convicted Ryan O. Suarez of premeditated murder for the June 23, 2013, death of John Cordero-Juarez, who was gunned down in Reynolds Park in South Dos Palos. Prosecutors said Suarez, 16, was a gang member hunting for rivals in the wake of the death five days earlier of a man who belonged to the same gang as Suarez.
The unanimous verdict was handed down Wednesday afternoon after a weeklong trial before Judge Ronald W. Hansen. At least one juror was in tears as the judge confirmed the verdict with each jury member.
Matthew Martinez, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case, said the jury “took the decision extremely seriously.”
“They said they wanted to be fair to the victim and the victim’s family, but they also wanted to be fair to the defendant,” Martinez said, after speaking briefly with some of the jurors. “I think the gravity of the situation really got to them, and it was clearly very emotional for them.”
Jurors could not be reached for comment.
Suarez, who was charged as an adult, faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison. A sentencing hearing was scheduled for Sept. 11.
Martinez told jurors during the trial Suarez may not have planned to kill Cordero-Juarez specifically, but said he “was on the hunt” for rival gang members. “He was on a mission and, unfortunately, he completed that mission,” Martinez said Wednesday after the verdict.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Tenenbaum argued during trial his client should have been charged with voluntary manslaughter, saying there was “zero evidence” the crime was premeditated. “Ryan is very disappointed,” Tenenbaum said late Wednesday. “We will definitely be filing an appeal.”
Tenenbaum, during his closing argument Tuesday, told the jury Suarez had no plan to kill, suggested it was actually Cordero-Juarez who initiated the confrontation that led to his death and said the victim was armed with a knife. Tenenbaum argued it was more likely Suarez reacted rashly to being confronted by a gang rival armed with a knife.
Martinez countered by arguing that Suarez armed himself with a loaded gun beforehand and had numerous opportunities to walk away from the confrontation. “But he chose to pursue the conflict; he fired at least seven times and walked toward the victim and fired again after the victim was already on the ground with a broken leg from one of the bullets that broke his femur,” Martinez said.
Martinez praised the work of the Merced County Sheriff’s Department detectives who investigated the case, especially the work of lead detectives Sam Sanchez, Mike Ruiz and Ruben Orozco.
Sheriff Tom Cavallero said the verdict was a positive reflection of the “relentless work and collaborative efforts of the detectives and District Attorney’s Office.”
“It’s terrible that these tragedies occur, and it’s satisfying to have some closure in these cases with arrests and convictions,” Cavallero said.
The prosecutor also said he hoped the verdict brought some comfort to the victim’s family. “I can’t even imagine their loss,” Martinez said. “I hope this provides some small consolation for all of them.”