A January trial date was confirmed Thursday for three Atwater residents charged in a suspected gang-related homicide from 2009.
David Azua, 22; Miguel Elizarraraz, 22; and Danielle Lopez, 28, have pleaded not guilty in connection with the shooting death of 26-year-old Derrick Bateman in October 2009 in the bedroom of his Merced apartment. They have also denied gang-related enhancements to the charges, according to Merced Superior Court records.
Judge Ronald W. Hansen scheduled jury selection to begin Jan. 21. A trial readiness conference was also scheduled for Jan. 3, the Merced County District Attorney’s Office confirmed.
If convicted, all three defendants could face life in prison without parole, according to prosecutor David Elgin, the supervising deputy district attorney.
Azua and Lopez were arrested in October 2009 in Sacramento and prosecuted on an unrelated burglary and stolen vehicle cases. They were sentenced in 2010 to serve four years in jail, according to Sacramento County Superior Court records.
Merced authorities have said they believe the same green van and firearm used by Azua and Lopez in the Sacramento case are linked to Bateman’s death.
Elgin said it is not unusual for these types of cases to take several years to go to trial, especially when key pieces of evidence, such as the suspected murder weapon, are also being used as evidence in other criminal proceedings.
Merced Police detectives identified three suspects through DNA evidence, leads from the Gang Violence Suppression Unit, and an arrest made later in Sacramento, according to previous reports.
Bateman’s murder was uncovered after his abandoned car was found in the Modesto Junior College parking lot. Family members went to Bateman’s South Parsons Avenue home and found him shot in his bed, investigators said at the time.
Police said Bateman’s apartment had been ransacked and some of his property was later found during a search of Elizarraraz’s Atwater home.
Bateman, a Merced High School graduate, worked as an assistant manager at Rent-A-Center on Main Street in Merced and aspired to become a recording star and professional songwriter, according to Merced Sun-Star archives.
All three defendants remain in custody without bail at the Merced County jail.