MURRIETA (CNS) – A sentencing hearing for a gang member who shot and
seriously wounded a Cathedral City bar patron without provocation was postponed
today after the defense requested additional time.
A Murrieta jury last month convicted 40-year-old Tomas Lucio Zaragoza
of Desert Hot Springs of attempted murder, firearm assault and multiple
sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations for the 2017 attack
on Mike Avila.
It was Zaragoza’s second trial for the offenses, after a different
jury in April 2021 found him guilty solely of criminal street gang activity,
deadlocking on the remaining counts.
Zaragoza’s attorney asked Riverside County Superior Court Judge
Timothy Freer for a delay in sentencing, possibly to prepare motions related to
the jury’s findings. The judge reset the hearing to Aug. 18 at the Southwest
Justice Center in Murrieta. The defendant is facing life in prison.
He’s being held without bail at the Byrd Detention Center.
Zaragoza shot Avila in the hand and stomach during an argument at the
former Block Sports Bar & Grill at Ramon Road and Date Palm Drive on the night
of July 26, 2017. The business has since been renamed Henry’s Sports Bar &
Zaragoza’s co-defendants — Andrew Monroy, 27, and Carlos Rodriguez,
30, both of Cathedral City, along with Ricky Ceballos, 29, of Desert Hot
Springs — pleaded guilty in 2020 to assault resulting in great bodily, as well
as gang-related sentence-enhancing allegations. Each man was sentenced to eight
years in state prison.
According to Deputy District Attorney Jenna Barsamian, Ceballos,
Monroy and Rodriguez got into an argument with Avila at the bar that led to
fisticuffs. The victim was there celebrating his wife’s birthday
The prosecution said Zaragoza entered the business and immediately
opened fire with a semiautomatic handgun, inadvertently shooting one patron in
the foot, and wounding Avila in the upper body. The trouble started because the
gang members perceived the victim, his wife and friends as encroaching on their
turf, according to investigators.
Witnesses told Cathedral City police Avila yelled just before the
shooting, “Hey, I don’t even know who you are. I just want to leave.”
Zaragoza testified in his first trial that his gun discharged because
the victim tried to grab it.
The defendant said he was smoking outside when he heard the commotion
in the bar and entered to find the victim holding a pool cue, leading Zaragoza
to join his fellow gang members, brandishing a handgun to scare Avila. But the
defendant claimed that the victim then went for the gun, causing it to
All of the defendants fled but were apprehended at a Banning gas
station two days later.
Avila underwent multiple surgeries and was hospitalized for several
months, according to trial testimony.
Court records show that Zaragoza has prior felony convictions for
domestic assault and theft.
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