WESTMINSTER — A judge on Friday sentenced a 15-year-old reputed Santa Ana gang member to the California Youth Authority for his role in the murders of a teen-age rival and a 4-year-old child in Orange County's worst incident of gang violence.
Anthony Ibarra, who was 14 at the time of the shooting, is one of four convicted in the Sept. 16, 1989, killings. Ibarra could remain in the custody of the Youth Authority until his 25th birthday, although prosecutors say that in similar cases, the actual term has been eight to nine years.
Ibarra was convicted last Sept. 19 of firing a semiautomatic weapon that, in addition to the two killings, injured six other people, including a 2-year-old child and a man whose leg had to be amputated. Ibarra had been charged with two counts of murder, 11 counts of attempted murder, one count of conspiracy to commit murder and a number of lesser charges.
The three others convicted in the attack, all adults, were sentenced recently. Two of them, Louis P. Valadez, 28, and Robert P. Figueroa, 21, received life in prison without parole and the third, Roman G. Menchaca, 19, was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Security was tight at the courthouse in Westminster, where the sentencing took place. Four bailiffs using metal detectors searched for concealed weapons and checked the identification of everyone who entered the courtroom.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Tom Avdeef asked Superior Court Judge Floyd H. Schenk to impose the maximum sentence, calling the incident "the worst drive-by shooting in county history."
"The death toll would have been higher had the shots been more accurate. It showed a lack of compassion," Avdeef said. "The indiscriminate shooting of women and children made no difference. . . . There can't be any compassion for this youth. He knew right from wrong. I don't think we can be concerned with saving him. It's too late."
Before delivering the sentence, Schenk lectured Ibarra about the seriousness of the crimes, pointing out that the youth would have received a much harsher sentence had he been tried as an adult.
"It's not too difficult to add up 75 years on the first three counts. Even with good behavior, that's 37 1/2 years," the judge added.
Ibarra, dressed in a gray and white striped shirt and gray pants, sat low in his chair with his head bowed through much of the hearing. He often tapped his feet, jangling the chains fastened around his ankles.
Irene Fernandez, 24, said outside the courtroom that she wished Ibarra could have been tried as an adult. Her 4-year-old son, Frank Jr., was killed and her 2-year-old son was wounded in the shooting.
"I wish he would have gotten the same as the others. The court said he's too young, but when he killed my son, he had the mind of an adult," she said.
Frank Jr. was shot to death as he sat with the family in their car on La Bonita Avenue in Garden Grove, waiting to go to the movies. Police said several young men in a pickup truck drove slowly past the area where they were parked as another group of people stood by.
Some men in the truck opened fire with semiautomatic rifles, killing Frank Jr. and 17-year-old Miguel (Smokey) Navarro. A 17th Street gang member, Navarro may have been the target of the drive-by shooting, which was spurred by an earlier attack in 5th Street gang territory, authorities said.
"My personal message to the streets would be to stop the killing," said Navarro's mother, Mickie Comacho, 42. "There's better things you can do with yourselves. There's a future instead of a grave."
Later, she said that her son was "no angel" but was on the verge leaving gang life when he was killed. "I hope Anthony still turns his life around," she said.
Ibarra's family and friends who attended the hearing declined to comment, but defense attorney William Morrissey said that he would file an appeal within 30 days.
"I don't believe there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt and I will forever believe that," Morrissey said. "The prosecution evidence was so bad it still boggles me."
Garden Grove Police Detective Mike Handfield hailed the convictions of Ibarra and the others, saying the future prosecution of gang-related incidents may be helped by showing witnesses that criminals will be removed from the streets.
"It's becoming more common for witnesses to come forward, once there's an understanding that these people are going to be held accountable for what they've been doing," Handfield said. "They know they're not going to be back out there in a month or two."