Andres Raya reportedly had bragged to other Marines about membership with the Norteño gang and said he'd acquired an assault rifle because it could penetrate police body armor.
While commentators speculated about Raya's reluctance to return to war, Ceres Sgt. Danny Vierra led an investigation that produced a much different conclusion.
He discovered that someone had called police 20 minutes before Raya killed Ceres Police Sgt. Howard Stevenson on Jan. 9, 2005, asking that a single officer be dispatched to help at Sequoia Market. Maybe a motorcycle cop, the caller suggested.
The caller said he was a store employee, but Sequoia employed no one by that name, Vierra found. Phone records then revealed that the call was not placed within the store, but from an outside phone booth across the street -- in front of George's Liquors.
"He said to just send one out and he was very specific," Vierra said. "In my opinion, he was planning the assassination of an officer."
Minutes later, Sequoia's owner called police to report a man acting oddly, saying he might have a gun.
Officer Sam Ryno was shot first, while trainee Chris Melton took cover. Stevenson got off eight shots but was hit in the legs and back. Raya then approached and shot him twice in the head.
"It was so rare, an almost unheard-of, brazen attack," Ceres Police Chief Art de Werk said.
Other officers killed Raya during a gunbattle later that night.
Raya's family continues to live a few blocks from the liquor store. They politely declined an interview request.
The Stevenson and Raya families have no contact.
"They had a tragedy in their family, too," said Kathy Stevenson, Howard's widow. "We always keep them in prayer."