More than two years after an Edison High School teacher was attacked at night in a classroom, the four gang members who are accused in the case appeared in court Tuesday.
The four are accused of attempted robbery, discharging a gun with the intent to kill or injure teacher Steven Guerrero and participating in a criminal street gang.
Their preliminary hearing will determine whether Nicholas Cruz Padilla, 18, Jaime Gonzalez, 20, Gilberto Ramos, 19, and Jose Alfredo Zinzun Jr., 19, should stand trial on the felony charges in Fresno County Superior Court. If convicted, they could face 25 years to life in prison.
The defendants appeared in court in handcuffs, leg irons and jail jumpsuits. They were juveniles when the crime happened on Dec. 19, 2013, and were charged as adults because of the seriousness of the charges. The hearing is expected to take two to three days. Guerrero, who recovered from a gunshot wound suffered in the attack and is still at Edison High, is not expected to testify.
Defense attorney Gerald Schwab, who represents Zinzun, said identification of Guerrero’s attackers and their roles are key issues in the hearing. Because identification is an issue, Judge W. Kent Hamlin didn’t allow the media to take photographs of the defendants.
The shooting happened a day before Fresno Unified School District went on a break for the winter holidays. At the time, Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer described the suspects as ruthless Norteños gang members who “were trying to prove their value to the gang.”
Court documents identify Gonzalez as the shooter.
The hearing began Tuesday with prosecutor Galen Rutiaga calling Fresno police Officer David Ponek to the witness stand. Ponek said he was dispatched to Edison High in southwest Fresno around 7 p.m. and interviewed a janitor. He said the janitor was scared and nearly crying.
Ponek testified that the janitor gave this account:
Three teens wearing hoodies went into a classroom and confronted him and Guerrero. One had a handgun. Another had a shotgun or a sawed-off rifle and wore a handkerchief over his face. The other threw a 5- to 10-pound weight at Guerrero, striking the teacher in the head. The fourth member of the alleged attackers remained outside the classroom.
The teen with the handgun was the only person to speak. “Do you want to get shot?” the teen said. “We’re going to take everything.”
Once Guerrero was hit in the head with the weight, the janitor thought that he was going to be killed, so he slipped out of the classroom and hid in another classroom. Soon after, the janitor heard eight gunshots. Guerrero then staggered into the classroom where the janitor was hiding and asked him for help and to call 911.
The next witness, Officer Mark Martinez, testified he interviewed Guerrero in the emergency room at Community Regional Medical Center. He said the left side of Guerrero’s head was bloody and he had three gunshot wounds to his right back, right stomach and right thigh.
Martinez said Guerrero saw three assailants enter the classroom: a teen with a gun who said, “We are going to shoot you guys;” a teen with a shotgun or a rifle; and a teen who threw the weight at Guerrero.
Martinez said Guerrero told him that the blow to his head caused him to fall to his knees. Guerrero then got up and struggled with the teen with the handgun. At one point he was shot, but he was able to get the handgun from the teen. Martinez testified that Guerrero told him that the teen then apologized and asked Guerrero not to shoot him.
Guerrero fired one round toward the teen, who ran off with his accomplices, Martinez testified.
On Wednesday, Rutiaga plans to call other officers to show how their investigation led police to the identification of the four attackers. Rutiaga also plans to call an expert in criminal street gangs.
Dyer has said the break in the case came when a 62-year-old woman told police that four boys, one armed with a handgun and another with a sawed-off rifle, beat her in an alley near the school just before the shooting.
Police then got five search warrants. One search of a home near the school led to the discovery of a bullet from the handgun allegedly used in the shooting, Dyer said.
The suspects were arrested on Dec. 23 and Dec. 24. Dyer said the shooting suspect confessed.