State

Stanislaus prosecutor tells gang's reasoning in murder case

A shooting that claimed the life of a high school student, who was targeted because she wore a deep red shirt in a gang-infested neighborhood, makes sense if you're a gang member, a prosecutor said Friday as he began delivering his closing argument in a murder trial.

Deputy District Attorney Thomas Brennan said 15 shots from a rifle fired, in broad daylight, into a park that was a known hangout for Norteño gang members tell part of the story.

A Sureño gang member who testified to save his own skin filled in the blanks.

Ernestina "Tina" DeJesus Tizoc happened to be wearing a maroon blouse as she sat on a table under a gazebo in Oregon Park in the airport neighborhood about 5 p.m. on May 26, 2004.

And the trial that began in mid-November in Stanislaus County Superior Court illustrates the senseless violence that can take place when street gangs -- such as the Norteños, or Northerners, who claim red and the Sureños, or Southerners, who claim blue -- get caught up in a cycle of retaliation.

"Do whatever it takes to get the revenge, get the retaliation, kill a Norteño, up the ante," said Brennan, who will continue his argument Monday. Arguments from two defense attorneys will follow, then 12 jurors will have the final say.

According to the authorities and witnesses who testified during the five-week trial:

Five Sureños were mad because some Norteños had come at them with bats the night before, chasing them into their friend's house near the park and smashing out the back passenger-side windows of a white Chevrolet Blazer.

About an hour before Tina was shot, the Sureños, who had been smoking methamphetamine, borrowed a .22-caliber rifle so they could fight back. They hopped into the Blazer and circled the park. When they saw some red in the distance, they believed their rivals were in sight.

After screaming some Sureño slogans, such as "puro sur," or pure Southerner, one of the boys opened fire.

Several shots rang out, and one of the bullets pierced the heart of 17-year-old Tina.

She was a junior at Johansen High School and had been sitting on a table in the park talking to friends. She was not a Norteño, but she was wearing a red shirt. Witnesses said Tina was the only person in the park wearing a red shirt.

Mario Garcia, 21, was in the car at the time and testified against his friends, saying the boys left the Blazer in an alley after the shooting, then got a ride to a dairy on the outskirts of Modesto, where they had a barbecue and cooked hot dogs.

They did not know that Tina had been killed until they returned home hours later. The next day, Garcia and four others were under arrest. They are being tried as adults, though they were minors at the time of the shooting.

Garcia said Pedro Castillo, 19, and Rigoberto Moreno, 20, both of Modesto, were in the Blazer when the final shots rang out. Both are on trial, facing murder, conspiracy and gang charges.

Garcia said Edgar Barajas, 20, of Modesto was the shooter, and Jesus Rodriguez, 19, of Patterson, was the driver. They will be tried separately.

Garcia, who accepted a plea deal, will earn his freedom after he testifies at both trials. The others face life sentences if convicted.

Brennan said the Sureños were in it together, looking for revenge.

"This is not the Edgar Barajas show," Brennan said. "Everybody has a part in this attack."

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.

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