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CAMARILLO MAN, 19, CONVICTED OF MURDER.

Byline: Michael Coit Daily News Staff Writer

A Ventura Superior Court jury found a Camarillo 19-year-old guilty of second-degree murder Thursday for his role in a gang crime spree last year that ended with the killing of a Moorpark man.

After little more than a day of deliberation, the jury found Art Contreras guilty of murder in the shooting death of Jesus Manjarrez. The jury also found Contreras guilty of shooting at a Camarillo home and robbing a youth at gunpoint in Somis during the 40-minute spree on Dec. 3.

Contreras is the fourth and final defendant to either be convicted or plead guilty in the case. He faces sentencing Nov. 14 before Judge Steven Perren.

Deputy District Attorney Matt Hardy described Contreras in court as the ``heart and hub'' of the crime spree because Contreras wanted to show his commitment to the Camarillo gang. The prosecutor said Contreras knew what was coming.

Defense attorney Willard Wiksell did not deny that Contreras drove the car used during the series of crimes, but he urged the jury to consider the involvement of those convicted of committing those crimes.

Wiksell said Contreras wanted the gun discarded after the drive-by shooting in Camarillo. He contended Contreras was never aware of the armed robbery and should not be held responsible for the murder committed by one of the other defendants.

Hardy contended that Contreras was a hard-core gang member who led four associates to the Camarillo home of a youth whom he disliked for dating his sister.

Contreras was the ``wheelman,'' Hardy said, and equally responsible for the armed robbery in front of the Somis Market and the killing of Manjarrez, who did not know the defendants and was fatally shot at a traffic signal.

Taking issue with the prosecutor's contentions, Wiksell said there was no evidence of a continuing crime wave. Wiksell said Contreras and the others were looking for a party in Moorpark when Mike Castro, a passenger in the car, shot and killed Manjarrez.

Prosecutors charged that the crime spree followed a disturbance at a Taco Bell, in Camarillo, about 12:30 a.m. Five shots then were fired at the Camarillo home from a four-door sedan matching the description of the vehicle involved in the Taco Bell incident.

The Sheriff's Department then received the report of the robbery. The fatal shooting at Spring Road and High Street in Moorpark, which witnesses said was unprovoked, was reported to the Sheriff's Department at 1:07 a.m. Sheriff's officials tracked down the suspects after a brief pursuit.

Castro, 20, of Camarillo, pleaded guilty to shooting Manjarrez with a .38-caliber handgun he had stolen, and firing the same handgun at the Camarillo home earlier. He was sentenced to a 30-year prison term.

Jose Duarte, 18, of Camarillo, was sentenced to a 15-year prison term for robbing the youth at gunpoint in front of the market.

A 17-year-old male juvenile was sentenced to five months in Juvenile Hall after admitting to being an accessory to the drive-by shooting, robbery and murder. A second male juvenile was not charged.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 27, 1996
Words:514
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