Afternoon Newsletter

Pair plead no contest to attempted murder for June shooting in Merced

Two suspects accused of shooting a 27-year-old man and subsequently leading Merced police on a vehicle pursuit are headed to prison, after pleading no contest Wednesday to attempted murder charges.

Fernando Figueroa, 24, and Jovan Morgan, 17, were arrested in the June 16 shooting of Cesar Villafan, 27, in the 300 block alleyway West 11th Street in South Merced. Figueroa was the driver and Morgan was the triggerman in the crime, which prosecutor Steven Slocum said had gang overtones.

Morgan said under questioning by law enforcement that he'd thought the victim had fired at his residence. Slocum said there's no evidence that Villafan, an ex-gang member, was responsible for doing that.

Villafan survived the shooting.

Under the plea agreement with prosecutors, Morgan will receive a sentence of 22 years in prison, while Figueroa will be sentenced to nine years in prison.

While both men pleaded no contest to attempted murder, Morgan's charge included gang and firearm enhancements. In addition to attempted murder, Figueroa also pleaded no contest to a charge of felony evading law enforcement.

The defendants will be formally sentenced by Judge Marc Garcia on March 15. Both will be eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of their sentences.

Morgan, who was a juvenile at the time of the shooting, was charged as an adult. "Given all the circumstances surrounding the case, we felt this was the appropriate disposition," Slocum said.

William Davis, Figueroa's defense attorney, said his client made the plea agreement because he could have faced more time in prison, if the case went before a jury and he was convicted. "Therefore, he decided this was the best thing he could do under circumstances," Davis said.

The incident happened shortly before 6:30 p.m. June 16, and agents from the county's Multi-Agency Gang Task Force were patrolling nearby when they heard the shots, said Lt. Matt Williams.

After hearing the shots, the agents, along with Merced police officers, pursued the defendants, who were driving away from the scene.The pursuit continued onto southbound Highway 99 at speeds up to 100 miles per hour, and the driver nearly struck another motorist, police said.

The defendants exited onto Mission Avenue and crashed head-on into a guardrail. The pair ran from the car, followed on foot by law enforcement. The defendants were captured near the Save Mart Supermarkets warehouse.

Inside the car, police found a loaded handgun, and the bullets matched the casings found at the scene.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or