The shooting spree of a Kerman man suspected of firing randomly at motorists along Highway 145 came to an end when he pointed his gun at an armed Department of Corrections officer on Jan. 8, Fresno Sheriff Margaret Mims said Friday.
Jorge Javier Gracia, 42, has been in custody since his arrest in Kerman, and faces charges of assault with a deadly weapon, brandishing a weapon, being a felon with a firearm and methamphetamine possession. He pleaded not guilty Friday in Fresno County Superior Court as the sheriff and other law enforcement leaders held a news conference nearby detailing the arrest.
The shootings took place between Nov. 27 and Dec. 17. Fresno and Madera County law officers said in December there could have been as many as to 10 shootings in which drivers were randomly fired upon.
The sheriff said the officer was near Whitesbridge and Goldenrod avenues about 11 p.m. when the driver of a black Chevrolet pickup pointed a handgun at him. The officer drove to a more populated area while calling Kerman police. With the suspect still following, the officer pulled into a gas station at South Madera and West Sunset Avenues, where he took cover behind a gas pump, drew his own firearm, and ordered the suspect to the ground. Police took Gracia into custody, and sheriff’s detectives obtained a search warrant and recovered a .380 caliber handgun and methamphetamine from the truck.
Mims said ballistic tests show that handgun fired bullets that match those recovered in five of the shooting incidents. In addition, Gracia was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of the arrest, detectives also confirmed.
The gunman’s motive for the shootings remains unclear, the sheriff said.
“We don’t have any information about why he started ... these shootings,” she said.
During an arraignment Friday, Gracia pleaded not guilty to five counts of assault with a semi-automatic firearm in connection with the five shootings. Three shootings happened on Nov. 27; one on Dec. 4; and another on Dec. 15. Three of the victims were men and two were women, court records say.
Defense attorney Mark Siegel informed Judge Michael Idiart that Gracia wants a speedy hearing. Idiart scheduled a status hearing for Jan. 31 and a preliminary hearing on Feb. 7. The preliminary hearing will determine whether there is enough evidence to order Gracia to stand trial. Until then, Gracia will be held in the Fresno County Jail in lieu of more than $1.2 million bail.
Court records say Gracia has a lengthy criminal record, including convictions for rape in 1997 and assault with the intent to commit rape in 1999. The documents also say Gracia was booked into jail on Jan. 9 and has three pending felony cases.
Gracia pleaded not guilty to the charges and has a status hearing on Feb. 20. If convicted of the shooting charges, he faces life in prison. But under an elderly parole program, he could be released early after reaching the age of 60 and serving 25 years in prison, prosecutors say.
Mims thanked the public for help in searching for the gunman in the shootings, which spread fear through western Fresno County, even though tips sent to detectives did not lead directly to the arrest.
“Crime fighting is a team sport, and the public is part of the team,” she said.
The sheriff said it was not yet determined if any, or all of the $10,000 offered for an arrest in the shootings would be given to the correctional officer.