Crime

Gang members accused of shooting Edison High teacher to stand trial

After hearing two days of testimony, Judge W. Kent Hamlin rule Wednesday in Fresno County Superior Court that four Fresno gang members will stand trial in connection with the shooting of Edison High teacher Steven Guerrero, who survived the Dec. 19, 2013, nighttime attack in a classroom. In the photo are Fresno police officer David Ponek, who testified at the hearing, and court reporter Noelle Acosta. Also pictured are Sgt. Justin Hoagland, left, and prosecutor Galen Rutiaga, right.
After hearing two days of testimony, Judge W. Kent Hamlin rule Wednesday in Fresno County Superior Court that four Fresno gang members will stand trial in connection with the shooting of Edison High teacher Steven Guerrero, who survived the Dec. 19, 2013, nighttime attack in a classroom. In the photo are Fresno police officer David Ponek, who testified at the hearing, and court reporter Noelle Acosta. Also pictured are Sgt. Justin Hoagland, left, and prosecutor Galen Rutiaga, right. plopez@fresnobee.com

Four Fresno gang members will stand trial on felony charges of attempted robbery, street terrorism and discharging a gun with the intent to kill or injure Edison High teacher Steven Guerrero, a judge ruled Wednesday in Fresno County Superior Court.

Judge W. Kent Hamlin made his decision after hearing two days of testimony in the preliminary hearing for defendants Nicholas Cruz Padilla, 18, Jaime Gonzalez, 20, Gilberto Ramos, 19, and Jose Alfredo Zinzun Jr., 19.

If convicted, they face a minimum of 25 years to life in prison.

The defendants, who are being held in the Fresno County Jail, were juveniles when the crime happened on the evening of Dec. 19, 2013. They were charged as adults because of the seriousness of the alleged offenses.

During the hearing, prosecutor Galen Rutiaga said the four defendants are members of the Brown Kings Norteños criminal street gang.

Several Fresno police officers and a gang expert from the California Highway Patrol testified in the hearing. Guerrero, who recovered after being shot three times and still works at Edison High, did not testify.

Testimony alleged that the four defendants confronted Guerrero and a janitor. One had a handgun. Another had a shotgun or a sawed-off rifle and wore a handkerchief over his face. Another threw a 5- to 10-pound weight at Guerrero, striking the teacher in the head. The fourth member of the 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 to call 911.

Officer Mark Martinez testified that Guerrero told him 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 wrest the handgun from the teen. Martinez testified that Guerrero told him 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.

The suspects were arrested less than a week later. At the time, Police Chief Jerry Dyer said the shooting suspect had confessed.

On Wednesday, Fresno defense attorney Gerald Schwab, who represents Zinzun, said after Hamlin’s ruling that he hopes to resolve the case with a plea agreement since the evidence indicated three of the four admitted to police that they were in or near the classroom when Guerrero was shot but minimized their involvement.

Testimony alleged that Gonzalez shot Guerrero, and Ramos held a shotgun or a pellet gun that looked like a rifle. But it’s unclear who threw the weight and who stood outside as the lookout.

Regardless of their roles, all four defendants face the same penalty of life in prison if convicted, Schwab said, because prosecutors have alleged that the defendants did the shooting to promote their gang. “We have problems,” Schwab said. “You know what they say, ‘In for a penny, in for a pound.’ 

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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