High-ranking gang member, others headed to trial in Merced homicide case, court says

Four suspects pleaded not guilty to murder in connection with the slaying of a 48-year-old man over the summer on Merced Avenue.

But all four - Stuart John Tsuneo Nagata, 39, Karla Mariela Perez, 35, Martin Santoyo Olvera, 27, and Annabelle Perez, 39 - will stand trial for the July 14 shooting death of Juan Manuel Ramirez, a Merced County judge ruled this week.

Nagata and Karla Perez on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to murder and accessory charges with enhancements for felon and gang involvement. Olvera pleaded not guilty to being an accessory and street gang charges. And Annabelle Perez, Karla Perez’s sister, pleaded not guilty to an accessory charge with a gang enhancement.

Police on July 14 responded to reports of multiple shots fired in the 1300 block of Merced Avenue, at about 11:30 p.m.

When they arrived, the found Ramirez suffering from gunshot wounds to his back and the back of his head, according to investigation reports.

Witnesses told police they heard yelling before several gunshots were fired and reported an older-model white Cadillac sedan sped away from the area shortly after the violence.

Authorities believe there was some type of argument between Nagata, described in police reports as a high-ranking gang member, and Ramirez about 20 minutes before Ramirez was killed, police said.

Authorities believe Annabelle Perez helped Nagata and Karla Perez flee Merced County. They also believe Olvera drove the white Cadillac after the homicide.

The evidentiary phase of the trial for the four defendants was tentatively set for Dec. 3, according to Merced Superior Court records. Nagata is representing himself. His co-defendants were being represented by attorneys.

Merced police ask anyone with information regarding this crime to contact Detective Kalvin Haygood at 209-385-6998.

The public can send information via anonymous text message to the police department by dialing “TIP411” (847411) and include the word “Comvip” as the “keyword” in the text message.

Vikaas Shanker is an award-winning reporter covering education, crime and courts for the Merced Sun-Star and Los Banos Enterprise. After growing up in Naperville, Illinois and graduating from the University of Kansas, he reported in several Chicago suburbs before moving to Merced County in 2016.