When a 20-year-old man was shot and killed in full daylight at one of Ceres' busiest intersections in January, police were mum about the motive.
But a prosecutor on Monday said Amadeo Avalos was the target of a revenge killing by six people whose family was victimized in a home-invasion robbery two days earlier.
Patricia Avalos, the sister of the homicide victim, was convicted in April of holding members of the Sanchez family, including a 2-year-old child, at gunpoint in their south Modesto house Jan. 9.
Prosecutor Jared Carrillo said the defendants, three charged with murder by ambush and three as accessories to the crime, held a family meeting to discuss how to retrieve the stolen property, including as much as $250,000 in money and jewelry. When those negotiations failed, they hatched a plan for retribution, Carrillo said, although none of the six were in the house during the robbery.
"This is a family thing," Carrillo said. "The plan was, 'If we're not going to get our stuff back, we're going to get revenge.' "
Lucila Sanchez, 32, was the first of the six to face a preliminary hearing Monday in Stanislaus County Superior Court. Carrillo told a judge that Sanchez followed the victim's red Chevrolet pickup just before he was shot. Superior Court Judge Scott Steffen will decide Friday if Sanchez will stand trial on charges of first-degree murder, a gun enhancement and the special circumstance of lying in wait, or ambushing, Avalos.
At 11 a.m. Jan. 11, Amadeo Avalos was driving that red truck when he stopped at the intersection of Whitmore Avenue and Morgan Road. Shots were fired, the truck rolled through the intersection and crashed into a fence, Carrillo said.
Primitivo Guizar, 18, is alleged to be the shooter. He has been charged with first-degree murder, three gun enhancements and the special circumstance of lying in wait.
Others with upcoming court dates are:
Heliberto Sanchez Guizar, 27, on charges of being an accessory to murder.
Modesto husband and wife Luis Sanchez, 65, and Rosa Maria Sanchez, 54, charged with being accessories to murder. They are the parents of Lucila Sanchez, and Heliberto and Primitivo Guizar.
Enrique Valadez, 20, a family friend and the alleged driver, charged with first-degree murder, a gun enhancement and the special circumstance of lying in wait.
If convicted, Lucila Sanchez, Primitivo Guizar and Valadez face life prison terms without possibility of parole.
Lucila Sanchez's defense attorney, Jem Martin of Sacramento, said the murder was orchestrated by Primitivo Guizar, a Sureño gang member looking to mete out retribution to rival gang members associated with Patricia Avalos.
"It was a brazen killing," Martin said. "Gangs kill innocent people to send a message."
Patricia Avalos could face roughly 20 years in prison for the home-invasion robbery when she's sentenced next month.