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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Gang Member Gets 13 Years in Rival's Shooting Death

Crime: Judge says Oxnard teen's troubled past was no excuse for using a gun when accosted near apartment.

March 29, 2001|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After expressing his disgust over escalating gang warfare in suburban Ventura County, a judge sentenced an Oxnard teen to 13 years in prison for killing a rival gang member during a confrontation in September.

"The conduct of these two sides is stupid," Superior Court Judge Bruce Clark said Wednesday. "It's insane. It doesn't stop and it's getting more violent."

Clark acknowledged that 19-year-old Anthony Vasquez had no parenting and a tough upbringing, but said his troubled childhood did not justify shooting Dino Zarate. Clark added that Vasquez had been in the Juvenile Court system for years and was still involved with gangs.

Vasquez was standing in front of his south Oxnard apartment Sept. 1 when a carload of rival La Colonia gang members arrived. They got out of the car with weapons, yelled gang slogans and walked toward Vasquez, according to court testimony. Vasquez pulled a gun and fired at the group.

A bullet hit Zarate, a 19-year-old college sophomore who still had gang ties. Zarate, who was on his way back to St. Mary's College in Northern California, had stopped to see friends and drove them to the south end of town. He died behind the wheel of his blue Ford Mustang as his friends fled the scene.

Clark said Zarate probably knew the intentions of his friends when they entered rival gang territory. "When Mr. Zarate stopped in Oxnard, it was the biggest mistake of his life," Clark said.

About a dozen of Zarate's friends and family members attended Wednesday's sentencing hearing to share their memories. His aunt, Linda Vildosola, held up a framed collection of photographs, including one from high school graduation and another from her nephew's senior prom.

Tim Mayworm, who ran a Pasadena home for boys, said Zarate took the brave step of leaving Oxnard and going to college with the hope of becoming a doctor.

"We are suffering his loss tremendously--especially the people who saw him as a role model," Mayworm said in court.

Zarate's uncle, Raul Zarate, said he knows what it's like to get caught up in gang violence, and he encouraged his nephew's killer to turn his life around. "Not only did he take somebody's life, he made a terrible mistake in his own life," Zarate said.

Vasquez originally pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder but changed his plea in February when the charges were reduced to voluntary manslaughter. Deputy Public Defender Randy Tucker said his client decided to admit guilt because he knew a jury would not be sympathetic to his gang affiliation and his use of a gun.

Clark gave Vasquez three years for voluntary manslaughter because he admitted his guilt early. But he sentenced him to 10 years for using a firearm, saying he should never have had the gun in the first place. Vasquez could be paroled by the time he is 30.

Vasquez kept his head down during the sentencing hearing, but Tucker, seated next to him, said Vasquez was weeping.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Simon urged the judge to sentence Vasquez to 15 years in prison. "When you take a life, there have to be serious consequences," he said. "Whatever remorse he has expressed, he still subscribes to that gang code."

Simon added that Zarate's death should send a message to other gang members. "This is a classic case where there are no winners," he said. "Everything about this case is gangs."

But defense attorney Tucker said Vasquez does not want to have anything to do with gangs and is determined to leave his past behind. Tucker asked the judge to impose a sentence of six years, saying Vasquez was minding his own business the night of the shooting.

"This was not somebody who was looking for trouble," he said. "Trouble came looking for him."

Vasquez's younger brother told the judge that the week before the shooting, a group of La Colonia gang members chased him and Vasquez and beat him with sticks.

And Adriana Vasquez, 20, told the judge her husband did not mean to kill anybody. He was shocked, she said, when he found out a few hours after the shooting that his bullet had hit someone.

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