The oldest criminal case in Stanislaus County Superior Court came to a close Tuesday when two Modesto men charged with a host of crimes in the 2001 shooting death of a rival gang member pleaded no contest to manslaughter.
Domingo Martinez and Robert David Rodela III served more than two-thirds of their sentences while awaiting trial. Their case is notable for its tortured trip through the legal system and interesting cast of characters.
In the years since 18-year-old Oroville Rosado was shot and killed, a key witness stabbed two people in unprovoked attacks, was found not guilty by reason of insanity, went to a state hospital for treatment and returned to Modesto.
An accomplice who got a deal in exchange for information racked up new criminal charges as the key suspects awaited trial.
The district attorney's office alleges that a gunbattle between Norteño gangs — the Northside Boyz and Dead Man's Curve — stemmed from a dispute over drug sales in the Highway Village neighborhood.
Defense attorneys argue that Rosado could have been killed by friendly fire because he and his buddies were armed and ready for battle when their rivals drove by.
Both sides agreed that eight years is a long time to weigh the evidence.
"This has, unfortunately, gone on a lot longer than it should have," said Deputy District Attorney Wendell Emerson, who took over the case two years ago.
Both men pleaded no contest to manslaughter, firearms and gang charges.
Judge Nancy Ashley sentenced Martinez, 28, to 15 years in prison. She also accepted a plea from Rodela, 29, who will be sentenced to 12 years, eight months in prison when he returns to court Aug. 11.
Martinez and Rodela each will have two strikes on their records and be eligible for release after serving 85 percent of their time.
Defense attorneys said the case got bogged down in procedural difficulties.
"The district attorney's office invited this by taking the case to the grand jury and improperly presenting it," said defense attorney Frank Carson, who represents Martinez.
"It's silly that it took this long," added Ramon Magana, who represents Rodela.
A judge threw out a 2001 indictment because a prosecutor asked a court reporter to leave during part of a grand jury hearing. Such hearings are held behind closed doors, so the only record of the proceedings comes from the reporter's transcript.
A second grand jury indicted Martinez, Rodela and four others in 2002.
Other defendants struck deals
Over the years, prosecutors negotiated plea deals with four defendants, leaving Martinez and Rodela, who have the oldest booking numbers in the jail, to stand trial on murder charges.
According to court records, there were at least eight incidents between the rival gangs in the weeks before Rosado was shot in the face, including five drive-by shootings and a "dry run" near Rosado's home in the 2700 block of Janna Avenue the night before the fatal shooting.
Just what happened the night Rosado died remains hotly contested in legal motions filed by attorneys on both sides. Authorities say they believe Rosado was armed with a shotgun when two cars converged upon his home just after 11 p.m. on April 6, 2001.
One car was driven by Martinez. The other car was driven by Vincent Lopez, 30, who is serving a 12-year prison sentence. He fled to Texas but was picked up during a traffic stop in Houston and extradited to Modesto, where he pleaded no contest to manslaughter.
Investigators found 37 shell casings from several guns, including an AK-47 and two .380-caliber handguns, at the crime scene.
Three men who played lesser roles in the shooting fingered Lopez, Martinez and Rodela, according to court records.
Brian Oyler, 33, told authorities that Martinez wanted revenge because he had been shot by members of Dead Man's Curve. Oyler pleaded guilty to gang and accessory charges and was sentenced to five years in prison.
Lamar Huntley, 32, told authorities he retrieved guns from a home the morning after the shooting. He pleaded guilty to gang charges and was sentenced to 180 days in jail.
Scott Bates Jr., 25, told authorities he loaned Martinez a 1991 Pontiac Grand Prix allegedly used in the drive-by shooting, in exchange for some cocaine, and retrieved the car after the shooting. He was prosecuted in Juvenile Court, where most cases are confidential, but he later racked up adult charges.
Fatal shot in dispute
If the case had gone to trial, defense attorneys would have attacked Bates' credibility and asked lots of questions about the trajectory of the bullet that killed Rosado.
Authorities contend that the fatal shots came from Rodela, who was a passenger in one of the cars, but defense attorneys said Rosado could have been killed by one of his friends, Gerardo Jaquez, who may have been posted on a roof across the street.
Jaquez initially told police he was standing next to Rosado when he died, but later said he lied to the authorities and stashed guns on a roof before the police arrived, according to court records.
In the months after Rosado's death, Jaquez had his own troubles with the law.
He was arrested in fall 2001 in connection with two unprovoked stabbings. Three years later, Jaquez was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to Napa State Hospital, which released him in 2006, according to court records.
In 2001, Jaquez's mother told police that her son seemed obsessed with Rosado's death, especially in the weeks leading to unprovoked assaults on two strangers. According to a report that is part of Jaquez's file: "Gerardo has been calling out Oroville's name during the last week as he stares at himself in the mirror and flexes all of his muscles."
Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2338.