Special Reports

Fresno man gets 22 years in Junior Villarreal's death

A Fresno man will serve 22 years in prison for the daytime stabbing death of a teen near Sunnyside High School almost two years ago, a Fresno County Superior Court judge ruled Friday.

Ramiro Santana, 20, pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in the March 2011 stabbing of 17-year-old Junior Villarreal. Under a plea agreement he was sentenced to 12 years, but Judge Edward Sarkisian also imposed a gang enhancement that added 10 years to the sentence.

Police say Villarreal was stabbed near the Walmart on Kings Canyon Road less than 1,000 feet from Sunnyside High while classes were in session. He died at Community Regional Medical Center.

Sarkisian sentenced Santana to the maximum possible under the plea agreement. He said Santana explained his involvement, but "it doesn't appear that there is a genuine statement of remorse."

The judge got a dozen letters from both families. He said he hopes they read each other's letters.

"It would show the pain, suffering and loss everyone on both sides of the aisle feels," Sarkisian said.

Prosecutor Douglas Treisman said the 22-year sentence sends a message to those involved in gang activity that they will go to prison for a long time.

"There is no excuse for taking a life or placing your allegiance to a group ahead of humanity," he said in court during Friday's hearing.

Villarreal's friends and family asked the judge to send Santana to prison for the maximum sentence.

"Even though it's been almost two years since Junior was taken from us," said his mother, Lidia Ruiz, "it still hurts like the first minute he was killed."

She said her son had been attacked by some members of Santana's group before the fatal attack.

"I don't know why my son was killed," she said. "A person doesn't get stabbed in the heart by accident."

In a letter to the judge, Santana explained that he was waving the knife around so opposing gang members would retreat.

That motion ended with Villarreal stabbed in the chest.

Santana testified during the gang enhancement phase of his trial that he had tried to distance himself from longtime friends who were members of a tagging crew and he repeated that claim Friday.

"I tried the best that I could to stay away," he said.

Santana's friend Moncerat Talamante said Santana spent most of his time with his girlfriend. She said Santana was "generous" and "smart."

She added: "I know he wasn't a gang member."

Santana was going to graduate with his class, said his lawyer, Antonio Alvarez, but "got caught up in a terrible tragedy."

Villarreal, who attended Sunnyside High and Cambridge Continuation School, was profiled in a Bee special report last year about Fresno Unified School District's high truancy and dropout rates.