Justices Order Lesser Sentences for Two Involved in Girl’s Shooting

SANTA ANA (CNS) – Two men sentenced to lengthy life sentences for the killing of a 9-year-old Anaheim girl shot while she played in front of her home must be given lesser punishments, thanks to a new state law regarding gang enhancements, Fourth District Court of Appeals justices ruled Friday.

Alfredo Miguel Aquino, 25, and co-defendant Ricardo Cruz, 24, were convicted May 30, 2019, of second-degree murder, participating in gang activity, possession of a gun by a felon and possession of a gun in a school zone, all felonies. Jurors also found true sentencing enhancements for gang activity for both defendants.

For Cruz, jurors also found true a sentencing enhancement for the personal discharge of a weapon.

Cruz was sentenced to 70 years to life in prison for firing the shot that killed Ximena Meza on Oct. 22, 2014. Aquino was sentenced to 55 years to life in prison.

“Aq5uino drove fellow gang member Ricardo Cruz into rival gang territory,” the justices wrote in the ruling. “When Aquino stopped the car, Cruz got out and fired a gun several times at men who he thought were rival gang members. One of the bullets struck (Ximena), who was playing in front of her apartment with her two younger sisters. As her father began to run outside, (the girl) walked through the front door holding her two younger sisters to protect them. (The victim’s) father held his unresponsive and bleeding daughter as she passed away.”

The law regarding gang enhancements applies retroactively. It redefines what is a gang enhancement. Prosecutors must show that the crime goes beyond providing some sort of increase in the gang’s reputation or street credibility. They must show something more concrete, like financial gain, retaliation or intimidating or silencing a witness.

The justices sent both convictions back to the lower court judge to re- sentence the defendants. Prosecutors have the option of retrying the case on the gang enhancements.

Just before the two defendants were convicted in 2019, Cruz attacked Aquino, setting off a brawl in the courtroom. After deputies separated the two, Prickett had the verdicts read separately for each defendant.

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