Ventura County

Monica Diaz

From the court record: “In July 2000, 16-year-old defendant and her 17-year-old half sister, Laura Renta, lived in Pico Rivera with defendant’s aunt and uncle, Richard and Sylvia Flores, and their four children, 18-year-old Esperanza, 17-year-old Richard Jr., 14-year-old Sylvia Jr., and 10-year-old Matthew. Defendant’s and Laura’s mother had died when defendant was three years old. After a period of living with other relatives, defendant and Laura had come to live with Mr. and Mrs. Flores, where they were considered part of the family. Defendant followed house rules, did her chores, and helped her cousins with their homework. Defendant met Michael Naranjo in high school. By March 1999, they were girlfriend and boyfriend, and Naranjo was a frequent guest at the Flores house. In a letter to Naranjo dated March 9, 1999, defendant talked admiringly about murderers. She stated that ‘[t]he best job is to kill people professionally’ and that books about serial killers were her favorites because she could learn from the mistakes of others. In an April 1999 letter, defendant told Naranjo that she thought the Colorado school shootings ‘kicked ass’ and that the ‘Trenchcoat Mafia’ was ‘cool.’ And in another letter written in April, defendant told Naranjo that when there was a minimum school day, the two ‘should do something that day. Not your average day though. Go, kill a few people, break some windows and stuff like that. You get the picture right? Maybe I should add some more details to it. I just have to do something really crazy and really soon. Cause if I don’t, I might hurt the people I care about the most.’ In the early morning hours of July 21, 2000, the members of the Flores household (except for defendant) were asleep in bed. Mrs. Flores awoke to find an intruder struggling with her husband. She realized that she was bleeding and kicked the intruder, who fell down and fled. Esperanza was awakened by the noise, got up to investigate, and saw someone go out the back door. She went into her parents’ bedroom, where her father told her that he had been stabbed; he fell to the floor. Esperanza called 911. Sheriff’s deputies and paramedics who arrived at the scene found Mr. Flores on the floor of the bedroom, dead of multiple stab wounds. Mrs. Flores also had multiple stab wounds, for which she was taken to the hospital. Richard Jr. and Matthew were found dead in the bedroom that they shared. Sylvia Jr. was found dead in the bedroom she shared with defendant. All had died of multiple stab wounds. (Esperanza and Laura, who also shared a bedroom, were not harmed.) Witnesses at the scene testified that defendant appeared calm and seemed unaffected in the aftermath of the murders. She kept to herself, playing with a toy bear while others mourned. Investigators found a ‘butterfly’ knife and a throwing knife in one of the bathrooms of the house. A flashlight with a red lens was found in the hallway. Near the gate to the side yard, other knives, an axe, and a roll of duct tape were found. Pieces of duct tape were also found at three locations inside the house and on the air conditioning unit outside. Forensic examination revealed defendant’s fingerprints or palm prints on the knifes found in the bathroom, the piece of duct tape on the air conditioning unit, and the roll of duct tape. All of the pieces of duct tape found by officers had been part of the same roll. Naranjo’s prints were on one of the knives found in the bathroom and the flashlight. Defendant and Naranjo were arrested on July 26, 2000. They were placed in the back seat of a police car by themselves and their conversation was tape-recorded. They professed their love for each other and discussed the possibility of continuing their relationship. members once he got inside. Naranjo had no particular reason for wanting to do this, although he had been thinking about killing people from the time he was 13 or 14 years old. (In March or April 1999, Naranjo wrote a letter to defendant in which he said that the one thing he wanted to ‘do before [his] life ends, one thing is to kill a shit-load of people.’) While he was attacking Mr. and Mrs. Flores in their bedroom, Mrs. Flores kicked him. Naranjo then went into the bathroom, where defendant was waiting, and handed some knives to her. She put them down and left the bathroom. Naranjo then fled. Naranjo was jointly charged with defendant. He entered a plea and was convicted of four counts of special circumstances murder and one count of attempted premeditated murder.

Both inmates are now serving four life sentences in the California Dept of Corrections.

JLWOP Inmate Edward Anthony Throop

On April 7, 1991, Throop and three other teen gang members, shot and killed Rolando Martinez, age 20 and Javier Ramirez, age 19 in a drive by shooting.  Martinez and Ramirez were slain when Troop began shooting from the rear seat of a Pontiac Firebird into a crowd of people leaving a baptism.

One bullet struck Martinez in the chest and two hit Ramirez in the upper torso, killing both the young men.  Bullets also injured Rudy Gutierrez, and Ilmer Maradiaga.  None of the victims were gang members, but were described by investigators as being merely in the way.

Investigators believed Throop, a member of the El Rio gang, fired at the baptismal crowd in retaliation for a recent altercation between his gang and youths living at Cabrillo Village, the neighborhood where the slayings occurred.

In 1993, a state appeals court refused to overturn Throop’s sentence
JLWOP Inmate Nathan Sessing

Nathan Sessing was 17 when he stabbed 61-year-old neighbor Larry Phifer in the neck six times, beat him with a baseball bat and stole a DVD player from his home on December. 2, 2004. He was convicted of first degree murder with special circumstances as the killing was committed during the course of a burglary. Sessing was sentenced to   life without possibility of parole on August 30, 2006

At the time of his arrest for the murder of Larry Phifer, Sessing was in jail for committing another crime.  He was under arrest for the stabbing of Brent Cook and attempted car theft.  Cook was stabbed as Sessing attempted to steal a car that belonged to a friend of Cook’s.

JLWOP Inmate Rudolfo Sandoval

Rudolfo Sandoval was a member of the Ventura Avenue Gangsters which had many rival gangs, but most particularly gangs from Montalvo According to gang- experts, a Ventura Avenue Gang member would gain respect from the gang if he were to shoot a white male in Montalvo.

On May 4, 2004, Sandoval struck a man in the head with a shotgun, and then handed the shotgun to Acevedo, a fellow gang member, who shot up the victim’s car.

The following evening, Sandoval and Acevedo decided to cruise around Montalvo in Acevedo’s car, and they were armed with Acevedo’s 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun. At around 11:25 p.m., they spotted Ryan Briner, a 25-year-old white male walking toward his parents’ home at the end of the cul-de-sac.

Sandoval and Acevedo exchanged words with Briner as they drove by him. They then made a U-turn and parked. Sandoval, who was armed with the shotgun and Acevedo approached Briner.

Briner, fearing a fist fight, removed his shirt and wrapped it around his fist. When he was just a few feet from Briner, Sandoval fired the shotgun, hitting the victim in the chest. Briner was bleeding profusely and attempted to flee toward his home
Sandoval then fired a second shot, striking Briner in the back. . Many people, including Briner’s mother, witnessed the second shooting and she ran to comfort her son as he lay bleeding to death in the street.

Sandoval and Acevedo managed to avoid arrest for over six months, until Acevedo was stopped by police officers for a traffic offense. When the police searched the car incident to his arrest, they found shotgun ammunition, methamphetamine, a ski-mask, and the 12-gauge shotgun used to kill Briner.

Judge Edward Brodie sentenced Rudolfo Sandoval, a.k.a. “Menace,” to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of Ryan Jason Briner.  The jury had also found true the special circumstance that the murder was an intentional killing by a street gang member; the special allegation that the defendant was a principal in the offense during which a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun was used; and the special circumstance that the crime was committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, and in association with the Ventura Avenue Gangsters street gang.

JLWOP Inmate Adam Sarabia


On September 22, 2004, Adam Sarabia was sentenced to life without possibility of parole for two counts of first degree murder, residential burglary, and auto theft. 

Saying the “level of violence was just mind-boggling,” a Ventura County judge  convicted Adam Sarabia of fatally beating and slashing John Ramirez and Joann Wotkyn  in October of 2002 as they slept in their bed . Sixteen-year-old Sarabia then stole their car and cell phone. 

 Sarabia had waived his right to a trial by jury, and opted for a court trial.   Judge Brodie in reading his verdict said “It’s clearly a circumstantial-evidence case, but a stronger circumstantial-evidence case I have never seen.” When the police arrested him, Sarabia’s shirt had blood on the sleeves and a search of his house revealed a baseball bat and tennis shoes with the victims’ blood on them. Sarabia was in possession of the victim’s cell phone and phone records showed numerous calls being made from the phone to Sarabia’s

Witnesses testified that Sarabia entered the victims’ home through an unlocked garage door and beat them with a baseball bat and stabbed them with two knives.  Sarabia stole Wotkyns’ phone and car, and left the vehicle in a parking lot after the anti-theft system activated.

The prosecutor called Sarabia remorseless and after the court rendered its decision stated he wished he could have sought the death penalty and characterized Sarabia as being a poster boy for the maximum penalty of life without possibility of parole.


JLWOP Inmate Michael Naranjo

In October 2003, Michael Naranjo was sentenced to four concurrent terms of life without possibility of parole for murdering four members of his girlfriend’s family and seriously wounding a fifth. In addition, the judge added another concurrent eight years on Naranjo’s sentence for using a knife to commit the crimes and for the great bodily injury suffered by victim Sylvia. Flores.  

Narajano and Monica Diaz were high school sweethearts when they brutally murdered four members of Monica Diaz’ adoptive family in their home. Sylvia Flores, Diaz’s aunt who adopted Monica and her sister when Monica was three, was also seriously wounded in the stabbing frenzy.

On Oct. 1, 2003 as a jury was being selected for his trial, Naranjo pleaded guilty to all charges against him, including the special circumstance of multiple murders.

During her 2004 trial, Diaz testified that she and her boyfriend, Michael Naranjo, agreed to stage a fake robbery at her home. Diaz testified she was trying to draw her family closer because she believed her aunt and uncle were having marital problems.

Although Diaz acknowledged she cut duct tape for her boyfriend so that he could tie her family up,  she denied taking part in the July 21, 2000 stabbing deaths of her uncle, Richard Flores, 42, and cousins Richard, 17, Sylvia Jr., 13, and Matthew,  . Diaz who was 16 at the time of the murders, was accused of letting her boyfriend, Michael Naranjo, then 17, into her families’ home and assisting him while he fatally stabbed her uncle and three of her cousins and seriously wounded her aunt/adoptive mother Sylvia

The 2004 jury found the evidence of letters that Monica Diaz wrote her boyfriend Michael Naranjo discussing murder, including one in which Monica wrote that she wanted them to be like the serial killers in the movie “Natural Born Killers,” to be very incriminating Jurors who discussed the verdict with LA Times reporter Jose Cardenas said the letters were key to the verdict against Diaz. “I think the letters definitely established her thought pattern,” Juror James Frank said. “It’s not a far leap from there when you take the physical evidence and her admission, and this is sick, that she gave him a kiss for good luck at the front porch. My personal theory is they were trying to emulate the natural born killer movie. That night they were trying to kill the family, the same as the movie”.

Diaz was first sentenced in April 2004 to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but an appellate court panel reversed a special circumstance allegation of multiple murders, along with her conviction for the attempted murder of her aunt.

Prosecutors decided not to re-try the attempted murder count or the multiple murder allegation, and Diaz was re-sentenced in April 2007 to four consecutive 25-year to -to-life terms.  This sentence was also appealed and the appellate court again remanded it to the trial court after finding   that the lower court should have granted a continuance to allow Diaz’s attorney more time to prepare.

At her third sentencing hearing, Diaz’ defense attorney argued that Diaz would never be entitled to parole if the sentences were to run consecutive and that a consecutive sentence would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. He urged the judge to impose the 25-to-life terms concurrently rather than consecutive. The trial judge agreed with the prosecution argument that Diaz should be punished for life for each murder, and ordered four consecutive 25 to life terms.  Norwalk Superior Court Judge John A. Torribio said he believed there was “no other sentence that is appropriate other than four consecutive life sentences,” noting the victims was “massacred in their own home” and that the crimes should be “punished individually.”

Diaz’s aunt and adoptive mother, Sylvia Flores, who was severely injured, requested that her niece be sentenced to the maximum terms. “I want her to get life four life sentences. … Nothing less. … I fear for this community if she were to come out,” victim Sylvia Flore told Judge Torribio…

JLWOP  Inmate Samuel Puebla

Man Convicted in 2003 Slaying
August 03, 2004|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

A Ventura County jury convicted a Fillmore man Monday of first-degree murder and attempted rape in the New Year’s Day 2003 slaying of college student Valerie Zavala.

Samuel Puebla, 19, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole at his sentencing, scheduled for Sept. 20. Although tried as an adult, he is not eligible for the death penalty because he was a juvenile at the time of the killing.

Puebla was a senior at Fillmore High School when he beat and strangled Zavala after the two left a New Year’s Eve party in Fillmore. Zavala, 19, who was a sophomore at San Jose State University, had volunteered to drive Puebla and a girlfriend home after the party in the girlfriend’s car. After dropping off the girlfriend, Zavala disappeared.

Her partially clothed body was found the next day, stuffed into a concrete drainage pipe under South Mountain Road between Santa Paula and Fillmore.

Jurors reached a decision about six hours after closing statements in the month-long trial in Ventura County Superior Court.

Zavala had been a cheerleader at Fillmore High School, where she graduated with honors. She was preparing for a career as an elementary schoolteacher and had served as the fundraising chairwoman for her sorority.

“She was a lovely, vivacious girl who really did nothing risky or out of the ordinary,” Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox said after the verdict. “For both families, this has been incredibly tragic. Hopefully, this will bring a measure of closure.”.

In pre trial motions, the defense  had argued “They [prosecutors] don’t have to open the door, but if they do I get to walk through it,” defense attorney Steve Meister argued in defense of his request during a hearing that was held to handle several motions.

Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox countered that Meister’s request to put on evidence of Valerie Zavala’s sexual history was only an attempt to smear the character of Zavala, who was a sophomore at San Jose State University.

Puebla, a Fillmore High School senior at the time of the slaying, has been charged with murdering Zavala after the two left a New Year’s Eve party in Fillmore the night of Dec. 31, 2002. He also has been charged with attempted rape.

Zavala had volunteered to drive Puebla and a girlfriend home from the party in the girlfriend’s car. After dropping off the girlfriend, Zavala disappeared. Both attorneys acknowledged in court Thursday that she was legally drunk and planning to go to her boyfriend’s house after dropping off Puebla.

Her partially clothed body was found the next day, stuffed in a concrete drainage pipe under South Mountain Road between Santa Paula and Fillmore. Her death was caused by suffocation, and she had been struck in the head with a heavy object.

On May 4, 2005, Samuel Puebla was sentenced to life without possibility of  parole.


Judge OKs adult trial for teen suspect Attorney sought juvenile court for fatal shooting case
By Raul Hernandez, Ventura County Star, July 25, 2008

Brandon McInerney Brandon McInerney

Relying on past court decisions, a judge ruled Thursday that trying a 14-year-old boy accused of murder in an adult court does not violate the constitution, swatting down legal arguments raised by the boy’s attorney that it was cruel and unusual punishment to do so.

“I cannot say that this is unconstitutional,” said Ventura County Superior Court Judge Douglas Daily.

Teenage defendant Brandon McInerney of Oxnard is charged with first-degree murder and a hate crime in connection with the Feb. 12 killing of classmate Larry King, 15, who sometimes wore makeup and told friends he was gay.

McInerney is accused of shooting the Oxnard youth as students worked on English assignments in a classroom at E.O. Green School in Oxnard.

Before making his ruling, Daily heard legal arguments for about 30 minutes from McInerney’s lawyer, William “Willy” Quest, and from a prosecutor, Senior Deputy District Attorney Maeve Fox, on whether the teen can be tried in adult court rather than juvenile court.

In 2000, California voters approved Proposition 21, which widened prosecutors’ authority to file charges in adult court against juveniles 14 and older without having to go to a judge.

Before he made his findings, the judge called for a 20-minute break to go back to his chambers to read the California Supreme Court cases cited by Quest and Fox in their legal petitions.

After his ruling, Daily set McInerney’s arraignment for Aug. 7.

Outside the courtroom, Fox said: “The judge followed the law so I wasn’t really surprised. I am just relieved.”

Fox said Daily’s ruling on the constitutionality of the state law “pretty much” eliminated the possibility of the district attorney sending McInerney’s case to the juvenile justice system, where penalties are generally less severe than adult court.

“So, per the law of California, the (case) is going to stay in adult court,” she said.

Quest said the district attorney took only a couple of days to file charges against his client in adult court without knowing all the facts about McInerney, King and the circumstances surrounding this case.

“The problem is their office, once they make a decision, it’s hard for them to change course,” said Quest.

He said this is the first he’s heard that the district attorney has decided that McInerney will be tried in adult court.

During a previous courtroom hearing, Fox had indicated that the District Attorney’s Office could decide to send the case to the juvenile criminal justice system after more facts came to light.

McInerney was in court wearing a white T-shirt and dark blue pants. He sat quietly, much of the time looking directly at the judge.

His mother, who has appeared at all his hearings, was sitting nearby and left in tears after the court proceedings.

Quest told the judge that he might file a writ of mandate with the Court of Appeal, 2nd District, Division Six in Ventura.

In an interview, Quest said he was disappointed by the judge’s rapid decision.

“I just wished he would have spent a little more time thinking about it,” said the attorney.

In the courtroom, Quest spent much of the time attacking the constitutionality of Proposition 21. He said it gives prosecutors the power to send a juvenile offender into the adult criminal justice system, where a sentence of 51 years to life, such as the one McInerney is facing if found guilty, can be given because state law mandates it.

Also, the attorney said, Proposition 21 prevents judges from looking at the facts surrounding the criminal cases of juveniles such as McInerney.

In addition, Quest said, jurors who find a juvenile guilty have no say about the sentencing.

McInerney’s case, Quest told the judge, could be the first of its kind that challenges Proposition 21 based on the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause of the state and federal constitutions.

“It’s a case of first impression. It’s a very important case,” Quest told the judge.

Fox told Daily that a judge already sits as the “13th juror” in a courtroom and can throw out a jury verdict, for example by lowering a first-degree murder to second-degree. She said this changing of a jury’s verdict has been done before by judges at the Ventura courthouse.

“The law does not allow you to murder anyone at any age,” Fox told the judge. She said that while she might feel “sympathy” toward McInerney because of his age, there is no legal defense for not trying him in adult court, she said.

During the hearing, Quest relied primarily on the People v. Dillon, a 1983 California Supreme Court case, to shore up his legal arguments.

In that case, a jury convicted a 17-year-old defendant of first-degree murder with gun enhancement for shooting the victim at least nine times during an attempted marijuana theft, according to Quest. After hearing all the evidence, the jury sent a letter to the trial court stating that it appeared that the “juvenile acted like a minor.”

Quest stated in his legal petition, “Only after being instructed not to speculate as to why defendant was being tried as an adult did the jury reach a verdict.”

In that case, the judge concurred with the jury and believed that life imprisonment was much too harsh, given the lack of maturity of the 17-year-old. The judge sentenced the defendant to the California Youth Authority.

Later, however, an appeals court ruled that the judge had no jurisdiction to sentence the defendant to the California Youth Authority. The 17-year-old received life in prison with eligibility for parole in 20 years.

Still later, the California Supreme Court reversed the appeals court and reduced the sentence to second-degree murder and ordered the trial court to sentence the defendant to the Youth Authority.

Fox told the judge that state law mandates that if there are special circumstances in a murder case involving juvenile defendants, the district attorney is required to file in adult court.

So, even if the judge sided with Quest’s legal arguments, Fox said she could, hypothetically, go back and file a “lying in wait” special circumstance against McInerney and by law, the case would have to be transferred back to adult court.

2008 Ventura County Star.
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Prosecutors vow to retry teen who killed gay classmate
from the LA Times
Dawn King
Prosecutors vowed Friday to immediately retry an Oxnard middle school student who shot a gay classmate, maintaining that the incident was a premeditated murder and a hate crime despite doubts by some jurors in the initial trial, which ended with a hung jury and a mistrial.
However, Ventura County prosecutors said they are considering whether to again try Brandon McInerney as an adult — a choice that legal experts believe made it harder for them to win a conviction.
McInerney, who was 14 at the time of the killing, would face up to life in prison if convicted as an adult. In the juvenile system, even convicted murderers are typically released at age 25.
“We will consider the fact that this was a very significantly split jury. We will consider everything,” said Chief Asst. Dist. Atty. Jim Ellison. “There are obviously very strong reactions on both sides, and we will consider all those in how we proceed.”
Jurors on Thursday said they were deadlocked on a verdict, with seven favoring a voluntary-manslaughter conviction and five pushing for first- or second-degree murder. The jurors, who have not spoken to the media about the deliberations, told defense attorneys that they did not believe the killing amounted to a hate crime.
Prosecutors on Friday disagreed and said they continue to believe the killing was motivated by victim Larry King’s sexual preference. They also said they believe that McInerney was lying in wait to kill King, an allegation that automatically qualifies him to be tried as an adult, Ellison said.
Laurie Levenson, a Loyola law professor and former federal prosecutor, said it was possible that jurors thought the charges were too harsh.
“Jurors felt prosecutors overcharged, and they were clearly not comfortable putting the boy away for life. They probably believed the dynamic between two adolescent boys is not the same as two adults,”  Levenson said. “With a hate crime, there is usually an agenda to go after a whole group, and this case as presented was a very personal. This was a shooting but not a traditional cold-blooded killing. It had an emotional complexity, especially one associated with adolescents.?
— Catherine Saillant in Ventura County and Richard Winton in Los Angeles
Photo: Dawn King, mother of victim Larry King, leaves the courthouse after the jury deadlocked Thursday. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times