Fresno longtime criminal gets 80 years to life in stabbing death

The Fresno BeeMay 28, 2014 

A career criminal was sentenced Wednesday to 80 years to life in prison for his part in killing a registered sex offender who was stabbed 58 times in southwest Fresno two years ago.

David Barrera, 50, asked the judge in Fresno County Superior Court to give him the same sentence co-defendant Patricia Ann Perez received two weeks ago: 26 years to life in prison for the first-degree murder of Lawrence Ballesteros.

But Judge Houry Sanderson said Perez, 50, had little criminal history while Barrera had lived a life of crime that started in the 1970s and escalated in violence, from drugs to burglaries to robbery to assault causing great bodily injury.

The only time Barrera hadn't been in trouble with the law was when he was in prison, and he escaped from prison once, the judge noted. He also killed Ballesteros within two years of being paroled from prison, Sanderson said.

"You have never attempted or demonstrated the ability to live a law-abiding lifestyle," Sanderson said. "You are a serious danger to society."

A shackled Barrera politely declined to address the court.

Ballesteros, 60, was killed Sept. 18, 2012, on his bed inside a detached garage, a couple of weeks after he was shown on local television in a feature story about Operation Guardian Angel, a multi-agency law enforcement task force that targeted registered sex offenders. The sex offense against Ballesteros was from 1984.

During the trial, the jury learned that surveillance video shows Barrera's truck near where Ballesteros' body was discovered in southwest Fresno near Chandler Airport. Another surveillance video shows Barrera's truck in an alley where Ballesteros' bloody mattress and sheets were discarded.

But attorney Mark Siegel, who defended Perez, and Gerald Schwab, who defended Barrera, told the jury no physical evidence, such as fingerprints, DNA or a confession ties their clients to the killing.

Barrera did not testify, but Perez told the jury she had no reason to kill Ballesteros, saying he was her friend and she had offered him a place to live. She also testified she was drunk and passed out in her home when Ballesteros was killed.

But a teenager who lived in Perez's home testified she saw Barrera and Perez loading Ballesteros' body into Barrera's pickup.

The jury deliberated over three days before convicting them.

"Eighty years is more than appropriate," prosecutor Jeff Dupras said Wednesday after Barrera was sentenced. "It was a brutal crime."

Schwab said Barrera plans to appeal. "He would be the first to admit that he hasn't been an angel," Schwab said. "But there was insufficient evidence to convict him."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, plopez@fresnobee.com or @beecourts on Twitter.

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