Patches of red on his clothes and flinging a term of disrespect to two suspected gang members meant death for 21-year-old college student Josue Huerta, who dreamed of becoming an architect and was winning a battle with cancer, according to testimony Thursday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
A self-admitted Sureño gangster testified Huerta was targeted at a west Modesto gas station in January 2004 after he called another man a "scrap," a derogatory term used to describe Sureños.
Julio Ramos, 25, testified Thursday in exchange for a plea deal that gave him nine years in prison. Ramos admitted to stabbing Huerta with a screwdriver and beating him as he lay on the ground.
Ramos said his buddy, Manuel Mendez, 25, fired several shots at Huerta.
Ramos said he confronted Mendez after the shooting about why he shot the student.
"The victim, he wasn't a gangbanger," Ramos said. "We're not supposed to attack innocent people."
Ramos said Mendez didn't believe it mattered that Huerta wasn't affiliated with a gang, only that he had some red on his clothes, a color Sureños identify with their rival, Norteños.
Judge Marie Silveira must decide if Mendez will stand trial for murder. Testimony continues today.
Huerta, a student at Modesto Junior College, was jumped after he purchased a can of beer and bag of potato chips at a market near his home, according to police.
He was winning a battle with Hodgkin's disease and was active in the Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church youth program, according to his family.
Huerta was attacked by three men who wore blue and are suspected of having to the Sureño gang.
As the men beat the student, a witness to the shooting pulled into the parking lot and tried to pull his van close to stop the attack. But the witness identified Ramos, not Mendez, as the person who shot at the van.
Daniel Louis Santiago, 28, was arrested as the third suspect. He faces a murder charge.
He originally pleaded no contest to manslaughter and gang charges as part of a plea deal but withdrew it after being arrested for selling drugs to an undercover police officer, Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira said.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2337.