Four days after he allegedly walked up to an Oxnard teenager and shot him in the face, a 15-year-old suspected gang member was charged as an adult with attempted murder and mayhem.
Diego Morales could face life in prison if convicted of the Saturday shooting, the latest in a string of shootings in Oxnard that surprised police while escalating community fears about the city's wave of gang violence.
Investigators are searching for suspects in the other incidents, which included the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Felipe Ramirez of Oxnard. Police said each shooting is believed to be gang-related.
During a brief hearing Wednesday, Judge Glen Reiser postponed Morales' arraignment until Dec. 6 and set his bail at $800,000. Although Morales has been charged as an adult, Reiser agreed to keep the teenager in juvenile hall until his arraignment.
Prosecutors used the state's 1996 Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act to tack a special allegation to the charges. They said Morales shot the victim while a member of the Colonia Chiques gang. If convicted, Morales would not be eligible for parole for 37 years, when he will be 52.
The street terrorism act gives the courts added sentencing options when dealing with a defendant they believe committed a violent felony while a member of a street gang.
Prosecutors waived a juvenile fitness hearing for Morales under the terms of Proposition 21, which was passed by voters in March. The proposition allows prosecutors to bypass fitness hearings for juveniles charged with certain felony crimes.
"He used a gun and shot someone in the head," said Bill Redmond, a deputy district attorney in charge of the felony crimes unit. "That conduct qualifies this young man to be tried as an adult."
Morales' arrest Monday came at the end of a violent week on Oxnard's streets.
From Nov. 10 through 18, there were six shootings in an area bordered roughly by Wooley and Ventura roads and Channel Islands and Oxnard boulevards. A seventh shooting in El Rio during the same period is believed to be the work of south Oxnard gang members.
The shootings shocked many in Oxnard, which had seen a reduction in crime that was touted by city officials.
Police Chief Art Lopez, who was called before the City Council on Tuesday to report on the spate of shootings, said charging Morales as an adult was appropriate considering the brazen nature of the shooting.
"I wholeheartedly agree with the D.A.," Lopez said. "We are talking about a coldhearted crime . . ."
Lopez briefed the council at its Tuesday night meeting on his efforts to put an end to the shootings, which have shocked many in the city and spurred Mayor Manuel Lopez to call for a round of community meetings after Thanksgiving. The mayor applauded Morales' arrest and the decision to charge him as an adult.
Morales, who lives on Ventura Road just north of the Ventura Freeway, was arrested at about 6 p.m. Monday as he rode with a friend on Camino Del Sol in Oxnard.
The shooting occurred at about 9:50 p.m. Saturday in the 800 block of Wooley Road. Detectives said the 16-year-old was shot once in the face.
The youth underwent surgery at St. John's Regional Medical Center and was released.
As he waited for his arraignment hearing Wednesday afternoon, Morales stood in a corner of the caged waiting area. His parents and several relatives sat on a front-row bench.
At the time of his arrest, Morales was on probation for three convictions since 1998, Redmond said. Morales was previously convicted for auto theft, misdemeanor battery and misdemeanor property damage from a hit-and-run incident, Redmond said.