A Los Angeles judge today ordered two alleged gang members to stand trial for the August 2008 slaying of a sheriff's deputy, who was gunned down outside his Cypress Park home as he was about to leave for work at Men's Central Jail.
After a 2 1/2-day preliminary hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders found sufficient evidence to require the 26-year-old alleged gunman, Carlos Javier Velasquez, and co-defendant Guillermo Hernandez, 22, to proceed to trial.
The murder charge against both men includes the special circumstance allegation that the Aug. 2, 2008, slaying of Los Angeles County sheriff's Deputy Juan Abel Escalante was carried out to further the activities of a
criminal street gang.
Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty.
The hearing included testimony from co-defendant Arnoldo Pineda, who said he was ordered at gunpoint to drive to the Cypress Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Pineda, who is not a gang member, testified that Velasquez gave him directions on where to go and then ordered him to stop after seeing a man with a shaved head.
"He opens the door and gets out. A couple seconds later, you hear the shots,'' Pineda testified, noting that he heard the man he knew as "Stoney'' ask the victim where he was from.
Pineda -- who pleaded no contest Sept. 14 to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for a 14-year prison term and his agreement to testify truthfully -- said he was afraid to contact police to let them know what happened because gang members knew where he lived.
Pineda, 29, testified that he initially lied to police and said he wasn't driving the car, but later acknowledged his role and participated with police and the prosecution in a crime scene reconstruction in which he drove
his car on the route taken the morning of the slaying.
Velasquez is accused of opening fire on Escalante, a 27-year-old father of three, as he prepared to go to work at the Men's Central Jail. Escalante was not in uniform when he was gunned down near the 3400 block of Thorpe Avenue.
Hernandez was allegedly in the car at the time of the killing and is charged as an accomplice.
Also awaiting trial is co-defendant Jose Renteria, 19, who is accused of supplying Velasquez with the handgun used in the killing.
A fifth man, Armando Albarran, 28, is still being sought.
The deputy's killing was investigated by a joint task force of detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department Robbery-Homicide unit and sheriff's homicide bureau and members of the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas unit.