Crime

Gang member gets 21 years for killing 9-year-old girl

Fresno gang member Brian Cooks, 24, sits in court during a break in his preliminary hearing as detectives offer testimony Thursday, Jan. 7, 2015 in Fresno County Superior Court.
Fresno gang member Brian Cooks, 24, sits in court during a break in his preliminary hearing as detectives offer testimony Thursday, Jan. 7, 2015 in Fresno County Superior Court. ezamora@fresnobee.com

Brian Cooks, 25, could serve 21 years in prison after pleading no contest Thursday in Fresno Superior Court in the shooting death of Janessa Ramirez, a 9-year-old girl who was killed while standing outside of a west Fresno laundromat in January 2015.

Cooks has been in jail for nearly three years as his murder trial moved through the courts. His attorney, Curtis Sok, was unsuccessful in his July attempt to get the trial moved to another court, as Janessa’s killing received intense media coverage and was seen by many as a major example of the dangers of gang violence.

Cooks was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, participation in a criminal street gang and being a felon with a handgun, the Fresno County District Attorney’s office said.

On Thursday, Sok called the plea agreement “a good settlement” for Cooks, who had several previous felony convictions. Cooks could have received a life sentence if convicted, but Sok expects he will now serve about 16 years of a 21-year-sentence before being eligible for parole.

Sok said his client had been shot at four times and was only acting in self-defense when he fired the errant shot that struck Janessa, who stood 270 yards away. But he stressed that Cooks was remorseful for his actions.

Janessa Ramirez 2
Janessa Ramirez, 9, was killed in January 2015 outside a laundromat at Clinton and Marks in Fresno after she was hit by a stray bullet from a gang fight. Special to The Bee

“My client is very sympathetic to Janessa’s family,” Sok said. “He wanted to make sure people know he feels really horrible.”

Cooks will be officially sentenced on March 5.

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