Four people were convicted of first-degree murder Thursday for carrying out a gang-fueled drive-by shooting in Indio stemming from a dispute at a cemetery.
On their first full day of deliberations, jurors convicted Cesar Monzon Jr., 29, Angel Lopez, 30, Andrew Marquie Malanche, 27, and Jose Antonio Armendariz, 35, of murder for the Aug. 7, 2016, shooting of 22-year-old Adrian Valdez, who prosecutors said was not believed to be affiliated with a gang.
Sentencing was scheduled for May 31. Jurors also found true a special circumstance allegation that the killing was carried out to benefit a street gang. All four are facing life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Monzon was the only man convicted of the crime who is a confirmed gang member. Lopez, Malanche and Armendariz were convicted of the special circumstance gang allegation because the murder was committed in affiliation with a known gang member, prosecutors said.
During his closing argument, Deputy District Attorney Jacob Silva told jurors the men drove around for nearly 30 minutes hunting their “prey” following some type of gang dispute at the gravesite of Lopez’s cousin.
Shots were fired around 12:43 a.m. into a group of people standing in front of a home in the 82600 block of Mountain View Avenue, in an area described by prosecutors as a rival gang neighborhood. Valdez was struck and died about four hours later at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs.
“Loaded with guns, hunting, trying to get rid of evidence, fleeing — all suggest actions of guilty people,” Silva said. “Everything about what happens suggests first-degree special circumstance murder. Everything.”
Security surveillance videotape from an Indio 7-Eleven showed the occupants of a Chevrolet Caprice and a Toyota Sequoia congregating the night of the shooting at the convenience store, then going to the Mountain View property, according to police.
A security camera mounted on a nearby home captured gunfire coming from both sides of the Toyota, while the driver of the Chevrolet sped away eastbound. Silva conceded during the trial that it was unclear who fired the fatal shot.
Between 10 and 15 people were standing with Valdez at the time of the shooting. Armendariz’s attorney, John Dolan, argued that gunfire originating from within the group could have struck Valdez.
Armendariz, who police said was driving the Toyota, was arrested Aug. 8, 2016, after officers tracked down the SUV’s registered owner, who told police that Armendariz usually drove the vehicle.
Three bullet holes were found on the exterior of the SUV, and ammunition was found inside, according to the prosecution.
Lopez and Malanche went to nearby JFK Memorial Hospital hours after the attack, according to police. Malanche was hospitalized with a single gunshot wound that entered through his backside, while Lopez was treated for a graze wound.
Police were notified, and officers seized a backpack belonging to Lopez that he had dropped near the emergency room. The backpack contained two handguns and nearly 100 rounds of ammunition, according to an affidavit filed in support of an arrest warrant.
According to the affidavit, Lopez told police he was inside the Chevy Caprice during the shooting, but he did not admit to taking part.
Malanche told detectives he was driving by the Mountain View Avenue home with Lopez when they were fired upon. Malanche said he was “scared” and that he and Lopez fired several shots at their attackers in retaliation, according to the affidavit.
Malanche’s attorney, Jose Rojo, told jurors at the outset of the trial that his client had only been in the Coachella Valley “for a month before the shooting” and had “never been in trouble before, never been in gangs before, even though he grew up in Indio.”
Malanche had previously worked in Texas and did not know any of the other members accused in the shooting, other than Lopez, his attorney said.
Prosecutors said Monzon fled the country following the shooting and was arrested three weeks later when a fugitive task force located him in Mexicali, Mexico.
Detectives were tipped to Monzon’s alleged involvement after a parole officer told them Monzon had cut off his GPS ankle monitor on the night of the shooting, according to court papers.
His movements just prior to the shooting brought him to within 40 yards of the Mountain View Avenue residence, investigators said. The parole officer told police the ankle bracelet was removed about 12:50 a.m.