A Fresno man was a gang member when he fatally stabbed another youth who was charging him during a fight, a Fresno County Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday.
Ramiro Santana, 19, testified during the gang enhancement phase of his trial Tuesday that he had tried to distance himself from longtime friends who were members of a tagging crew, but Judge Edward Sarkisian ruled Wednesday that Santana was acting as part of a gang when he fought with Junior Villarreal.
Santana, 19, pleaded no contest to manslaughter in the March 2011 stabbing death of 17-year-old Villarreal. Under a plea agreement, he would be sentenced to 12 years. But now he faces an additional 10 years for the gang enhancement.
Police say Villarreal was stabbed in front of Walmart on Kings Canyon Road less than 1,000 feet from Sunnyside High while school was still in session. He died at Community Regional Medical Center. Villarreal, who attended Sunnyside and Cambridge Continuation, was profiled in stories published in The Bee last year on Fresno Unified's high truancy and dropout rates.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Prosecutor Douglas Treisman said the fight was between rival tagging crews. Santana said he was blindsided and fell to the ground. As a friend was pulling him up, Santana said he took a knife from inside his coat and began waving it.
Villarreal was stabbed once in the chest.
Santana testified that he didn't recall stabbing Villarreal and was trying to get the rival group to leave him alone by showing he was armed.
If he had been acting as a gang member, Santana said, he would have jumped into the fray immediately instead of watching and getting hit.
He said he carried the knife because he wasn't a gang member and feared he made himself a target in the neighborhood because he looked and dressed differently.
But Treisman showed pictures of Santana making a tagging crew sign with friends, and the judge said a drawing made by another inmate in Fresno County Jail depicted the date of the stabbing, his tagging group affiliation and weapons, convinced him that Santana was still affiliated with the gang.
He will be sentenced by Sarkisian on Jan. 18.