Gang leader arraigned on murder counts in largest criminal case in Tulare County history

Pedro "Pistol Pete" Sanchez
Pedro "Pistol Pete" Sanchez Special to The Bee

A Norteño gang leader charged with murdering five people in Tulare County has been arraigned on 16 felony counts.

Pedro “Pistol Pete” Sanchez, 34, is charged with five counts of first-degree murder for the 2014 and 2015 slayings of Tonya Huff, Noe Martinez, Matthew Villegas, Manuel Gonzalez and Alfonso Pena outside Porterville and Visalia.

Sanchez, of Lindsay, was arrested during a multi-agency gang sweep in 2015 that became the largest criminal case in Tulare County history.

He was arraigned Monday in the Visalia Division of Tulare County Superior Court after a grand jury handed down an indictment earlier this month.

The murder counts come with a special allegation that alleged crimes were committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang. On four of the murder counts, Sanchez is charged with the special allegation that a gun was used to cause death.

Sanchez was also charged with one count of arson, one count of conspiracy to commit robbery, four counts of conspiracy to commit murder, and five counts of gang conspiracy to commit murder.

He was not given bail.

Sanchez and 11 other gang members were indicted by a criminal grand jury in December of 2016 with 65 counts, including murder.

In that indictment, Sanchez was charged with the 2015 murder of Rigoberto Santa Maria, eight counts of conspiracy to commit murder, and other gang-related crimes. He was awaiting trial for this case when the new indictment was handed down.

“Law enforcement and prosecutors have done a commendable job on this case,” District Attorney Tim Ward said in a news release issued Wednesday, “and have never let up on their pursuit of justice for the families of the victims and for the safety of our communities against gang violence.”

The district attorney’s office previously announced it’s seeking the death penalty against Sanchez for the 2016 grand jury indictment.

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge