MAN PLEADS GUILTY TO MURDER IN SPREE.
Rather than face trial on charges that carry a possible life term in state prison, a tearful Camarillo man pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree murder and shooting at a home during a December crime spree.
Appearing in Ventura Municipal Court for a preliminary hearing on the charges, Mike Castro, 20, instead pleaded guilty to shooting and killing Jesus Manjarrez at a Moorpark intersection about 30 minutes after shooting at a Camarillo home.
Castro, one of four Camarillo gang members held on various charges related to the crime spree, wept during the proceeding and then was taken back to the Ventura County Jail to await sentencing March 1 in Superior Court.
Deputy Public Defender Bob Willey would not comment on the plea or arguments he would make on Castro's behalf at sentencing.
The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Matt Hardy, said Castro's plea at such an early stage of the court proceedings could help him at the sentencing hearing.
"They are taking their very best shot," Hardy said of Castro and his attorney.
"When a case is tied together as tightly as the sheriff tied this together, there's just nothing the defendant can do," Hardy said. "Castro is the shooter. Castro is the guy who squeezed the trigger at the house, and he is the guy who squeezed the trigger in the shooting of Manjarrez."
Castro faces a term of 15 years to life in prison for the murder of Manjarrez, 25, who was shot inside his car while it was stopped at Spring Road and High Street in Moorpark. Witnesses said the shooting was unprovoked, and Hardy said Castro did not know the victim.
The offense of shooting at an occupied home carries a maximum term of seven years. Castro also faces an additional 20 years for firing a .38-caliber handgun during the two incidents, Hardy said.
Castro worked for a moving company. Hardy said Castro stole the handgun from a family whom the company was moving.
Sheriff's officials said Castro and three other defendants went on a crime spree for 40 minutes after a disturbance at a Taco Bell in Camarillo about 12:30 a.m.
Art Contreras, 18, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, shooting at the Camarillo home and armed robbery of a teen-ager in front of a Somis market. He faces a preliminary hearing Feb. 16.
Hardy said there is not enough evidence to seek a first-degree murder conviction. He said there is no evidence that the killing was premeditated and deliberate.
Two juveniles have been charged with the armed robbery in front of a market.
Jose Duarte, 17, was found unfit for a Juvenile Court trial based on the seriousness of the charged offense. Duarte was ordered this week to stand trial as an adult on the charge in Superior Court.
The second male juvenile, also 17, faces a hearing Jan. 29 in Juvenile Court to determine if he should face trial as an adult.
Hardy said he will seek to have the juvenile transferred to adult court because of the seriousness of the armed robbery charge.