A Fresno gang member will stand trial on a murder charge in the killing of 16-year-old Fresno honors student Marina Talamantez, who was gunned down outside her home last November, a judge ruled Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court.
Judge Gary Hoff said there’s no direct evidence to show that Brandon Escobedo, 18, fired the shot that mortally wounded Marina Talamantez on Nov. 30. But the judge said there was enough evidence to prove he aided and abetted in the killing to promote the criminal street gang known as College Street Locos.
Under an aider and abettor theory, a defendant can be convicted of murder if they assist, encourage, or facilitate a crime; they do not have to be the actual perpetrator of the crime against the victim.
In addition to murder, Hoff said Escobedo will stand trial on charges that he attempted to murder Marina’s brother, Adrian Talamantez, and her cousin, Cecelia Moreno, and that he shot into an inhabited dwelling and tried to coerce a minor into to join a criminal street gang.
If convicted of the charges, Escobedo faces life in prison.
Hoff made his decision after hearing two days of testimony, including from Adrian Talamantez and Moreno. They testified that they saw Escobedo and about 15 to 30 gang members outside their home at 625 N. College Ave. during the early hours of Nov. 30, shouting “College Street.” They were there to pick a fight with Marina’s cousin, Eric Moreno, but he was not home.
They then turned their attention to Adrian Talamantez, who declined to fight them.
Once gunfire erupted from the crowd, Adrian Talamantez testified that he and Moreno were able to run back into the house.
“Marina wasn’t so lucky,” her brother testified. “She got shot in the back of her head.”
Afterward, police found shell casings on the front lawn of Marina’s home where Escobedo was standing, Fresno police detective David Fenstermaker testified.
Paralyzed from the chin down, unable to breathe or eat on her own, Marina lingered near death in intensive care at Community Regional Medical Center before she died on Jan. 2.
The hearing gave a glimpse into the Bulldogs gang lifestyle. Even though they share the same moniker and wear similar red clothing, the Bulldogs gang is split into dozens of factions, and many of the groups dislike each other.
Escobedo became a prime suspect because he lied about being in a gang and being at the crime scene, Detective Leonard Cabrera said. Cabrera said Escobedo told him that he was at home when Marina was shot.
But Cabrera testified he found photographs that showed Escobedo was an active member of the College Street Locos. Marina’s brother and cousin testified they made eye contact with Escobedo right before shots rang out. However, they didn’t see a gun in his hand, their testimony revealed.
During the hearing, Marina’s family sat on one side of the courtroom, while Escobedo’s family was on the other side.
Prosecutor Noelle Pebet called witnesses who showed that Marina was caught up in the gang violence because her father and older relatives were Bulldog gang members (not College Street) and the family home was on the turf controlled by the College Street Locos.
Defense attorney Franz Criego argued that there was insufficient evidence to show Escobedo played a role in the shooting.
The testimony revealed that Marina, her brother and cousins weren’t in a gang. She attended SOUL (School of Unlimited Learning), a Fresno charter high school, with a dream of enrolling in the Navy after graduation, her family said.
Cabrera and Detective Miguel Alvarez testified that the shooting was the result of a beef between Moreno’s brother, Eric Moreno, and Escobedo. Escobedo did not like the fact that Eric Moreno is living with Escobedo’s sister, the detectives said.
About a month before Marina was shot, Eric Moreno and Escobedo got into a fight, which Moreno claimed he won, Cabrera testified.
Losing the fight weakened the College Street Locos’s status, Alvarez testified. To avenge the lose and gain respect, Escobedo and his gang had to retaliate against Eric Moreno, Alvarez said.
Eric Moreno was not at Marina’s home when the gang came looking for him around 1:30 a.m. Nov. 30. The gang then targeted their anger toward Adrian Talamantez.
“They came to do harm,” he testified. “They were antsy and acting crazy.”
Adrian Talamantez said the gang members accused him of disrespecting College Street Locos and challenged him to a fight.
“I was scared for me and my family,” he told the judge.
Once he said he didn’t want to fight, gunfire erupted. “The bullets flew right by me,” he said.