Three admitted members of the violent street gang MS-13 accepted a plea agreement in Fresno County Superior Court for the slaying of a Mendota woman last year.
Marty Sepe, 46, was found on a neighborhood sidewalk on Dec. 1. She had been shot multiple times and left to die.
Shortly after finding the body, Fresno County sheriff’s deputies pulled over a car driven by Ruben Escobar, 27, near the area where Sepe was found. Escobar and his passengers – Carlos Cruz, 23, and Darwin Gomez, 18 – were soon arrested and charged with murder. All three men are from Mendota.
On Tuesday, Cruz and Gomez pleaded no contest to manslaughter charges with gun and gang enhancements, Fresno County District Attorney spokesman Steve Wright said. They agreed to serve 31 years in prison. If they had been convicted of the murder charge, the two gunmen faced life in prison.
Wright said the evidence showed that Escobar did not actually shoot Sepe, so he was allowed to plead to a lesser charge of assault with a deadly weapon with gang involvement. His term will be 11 years.
The three gang enhancements were important, Wright said, because they were the first time the Fresno County Superior Court had officially recognized the Los Angeles-based MS-13 as a criminal enterprise through these enhancements. It will now be easier for the district attorney to seek the same enhancements against future MS-13 members charged with murder or other violent crimes.
Scott Kinney, Escobar’s attorney, said the evidence proving his client and the others were part of MS-13 was light. He believes his client, who was charged with murder, weighed his options.
“Do you wanna risk it?” Kinney said. “He was facing life in prison, or he could be out by his mid-30s.”
Both Wright and Kinney said that no motive had been established in the crime, but Kinney said some theories included that Sepe was selling drugs on the shooters’ turf or owed one of them money.