Crime

Fresno gang member sentenced to life in prison

Brian Flores, 18, was an innocent victim of a drive-by shooting at Marks and Ashlan avenues in Fresno in March 2014.
Brian Flores, 18, was an innocent victim of a drive-by shooting at Marks and Ashlan avenues in Fresno in March 2014. Special to The Bee

A 21-year-old Fresno gang member was sentenced Monday to 123 years to life in prison plus life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing an innocent victim and for the attempted murder of three of his friends in a drive-by shooting in March 2014.

Richard Armando Melendez showed no emotion when his punishment was announced in Fresno County Superior Court.

The sentencing of Melendez brought a sad end to another chapter in Fresno’s senseless gang violence.

During Melendez’s trial, prosecutor Sam Dalesandro and defense attorney Douglas Foster agreed that the murder victim, 18-year-old Brian Flores, was a nice, kind-hearted young man who had no gang ties.

Members of Flores’ family shed tears Monday as they told Judge Edward Sarkisian Jr. that his death was not only a loss for them, but for the entire community.

“He was talking about enrolling in City College. He also talked about joining the military,” Brian’s father, Antonio Flores, told Sarkisian. “He wanted to contribute to society – not take from society.”

I fear for the safety of my children and all the young people of this generation.

Audrey Flores, mother of murder victim Brian Flores

Brian’s mother, Audrey Flores, told the judge that Fresno gangs have made the city unsafe for everyone.

“I get stressed every time I hear a siren,” she said. “I fear for the safety of my children and all the young people of this generation.”

Audrey Flores then looked at the shackled defendant.

“You murdered Brian in cold blood,” she told Melendez. “That means you showed no sympathy or mercy.”

Melendez didn’t flinch.

In July, a jury deliberated less than four hours before finding Melendez guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Flores and guilty of three counts of attempted murder for trying to kill Flores’ friends.

Dalesandro said Melendez is a prime candidate for life behind bars because the jury found true two special allegations: Melendez committed a drive-by shooting and he did the killing to promote a criminal street gang (the Bulldogs).

Flores was shot during the early hours of March 5, 2014. He lingered in a coma for more than a day before he died.

On the night of the shooting, Flores drove his three friends to Mardi Gras in the Tower District. One of his friends, Steven Cabrera, had a prior altercation with Melendez, Dalesandro told the jury. Dalesandro said Cabrera once belonged to a gang that is a rival of the Bulldogs, but had dropped out of the gang years ago.

That night, Melendez and his friends saw Cabrera and surrounded Flores’ car. They barked at the victims and cursed them, Dalesandro said.

Not wanting trouble, Flores and his friends left the area. But within an hour, they crossed paths with Melendez, who was a passenger in a car that pulled up next to Flores’ car at Ashlan and Marks avenues. Melendez fired several rounds into Flores’ car, killing Flores but missing his three friends, Dalesandro said.

It took planning and he waited until his car pulled alongside the victim’s car. The defendant brought maximum violence, so he should receive the maximum sentence.

Prosector Sam Dalesandro to Judge Edward Sarkisian Jr. at Monday’s sentencing hearing for murderer Richard Armando Melendez

After the deadly shooting, Cabrera, who has known Melendez since high school, called 911 and had trouble remembering the gunman’s name. He later picked Melendez out of a police photo lineup.

Dalesandro said other evidence implicated Melendez. He made telephone calls before and after Flores was shot. FBI special agent Michael Easter, an expert on analyzing cellphone data, testified that the cellphone calls pinged off a nearby cell tower and put Melendez in the area when Flores was shot.

Dalesandro told the jury that Melendez went on the Internet to see news of the shooting and sent text messages after the shooting in which he bragged about shooting out the windows of a car. Dalesandro also said there was ample evidence to prove Melendez was the gunman. About 60 people testified in the trial.

Melendez was arrested five days after the shooting. He has never confessed to the shooting, and police never found the murder weapon in his home. He didn’t testify in his trial.

Members of murderer Richard Armando Melendez’s family asked the judge to show mercy, saying he spent time in foster care and has two young daughters.

At Monday’s hearing, Flores’ family and friends fondly recalled Flores as a young man who liked to fish, play video games and who worked at a fast-food restaurant to buy his own car and television.

Melendez’s family asked the judge to show mercy, saying he spent time in foster care and has two young daughters. But Sarkisian said Melendez has taken no role providing for his children nor has he revealed who was with him on the night of the shooting. “None of your business,” Melendez told authorities, according to the judge.

Defense attorney Foster insisted that Melendez didn’t shoot Flores and his friends. He also said life in prison without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional.

But Sarkisian said the punishment was neither cruel nor unusual.

In announcing the sentence, Sarkisian said Melendez has shown “a lack of moral character” and hasn’t shown “the slightest bit of remorse.”

As a juvenile, Melendez got caught with a gun, the judge said. He later was caught with an assault rifle.

In killing Flores, Melendez used a .40 caliber handgun, the judge noted for the record.

“He is a serious danger to society,” Sarkisian said.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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