CARLSBAD — On April 7, nearly a year to the day of an Encinitas gang’s retaliatory attack in which one of their members was accidentally shot, one of the men linked to the crime talked openly about the details that led up to the fatal shooting.
From the witness stand in a Vista courtroom, Victor Lopez testified against two members of his gang, his cousin Javier Antonio Lopez and Jose Angel Barraza, at their preliminary hearing for the murder of 21-year-old Juan Carlos Balderas near Pine Community Park at Chestnut Avenue and Madison Street in Carlsbad last April.
Javier Lopez, 20, and Barraza, 27, are charged with murder and attempted murder for the benefit of a criminal street gang as well as other felony charges relating to the April 4, 2009, shooting.
Barraza is also charged with the gang intimidation of a witness relating to a text message he sent Balderas’ sister following the shooting allegedly telling the girl to keep quite.
The duo faces life in prison, while Victor Lopez, who has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, faces significantly less time because of his willingness to testify against the defendants.
As part of his plea agreement, the 22-year-old took the stand April 7 and detailed the events that lead to Balderas’ death. “We already knew we were going to get there and find some bald guys claiming Carlsbad and we were going to shoot them,” he said.
Victor Lopez said the foursome went to Carlsbad to avenge an earlier shooting of his and Javier Lopez’s then-18-year-old cousin who suffered nonlife-threatening injuries after being grazed in the head by a bullet while at a party on Pio Pico Drive. “We all decided, ‘Let’s go take care of this,’” he said.
Before going to Carlsbad, he said the group went to Barraza’s house where they picked him, and a sawed-off shotgun, up.
When asked by Deputy District Attorney Geoff Allard about whether the foursome discussed killing rival gang members before heading to Carlsbad, Victor Lopez said, “We had to be talking about shooting somebody, because that’s what you do with a gun.”
He added, “The only thing we hunt is our rivals.”
After finding some “bald heads,” or rival gang members, near the Senior Center in the Barrio neighborhood, he said the foursome set out to start trouble. While walking toward their rivals, Victor Lopez testified he decided to run back to his car to lock the doors.
When he returned, only Balderas had waited for him. Soon after, the two men encountered members from the opposing gang and fled after their rivals whistled for backup.
As the two men ran through Chase Field and the surrounding area, they encountered another rival gang member, who Balderas knew. Victor Lopez said he was pistol-whipped by the unidentified man with a weapon that resembled the shotgun the foursome had brought with them.
After fleeing again, he said he lost Balderas and finally found a hiding space where he could call his mother for a ride. During that time, he said he called Balderas’ cell phone approximately 10 times but couldn’t get in touch with his friend.
Victor Lopez said he didn’t know who was carrying the shotgun that night; however, he did testify that his cousin had requested to be the shooter while at Barraza’s house.
Under cross-examination by the defendants’ attorneys, Victor Lopez denied going back to the car to get the weapon.
Police have said the shotgun believed to have been used in the shooting was recovered the following day from Javier Lopez’s home in La Costa where he lived with his parents. The duo’s next scheduled court appearance is April 23, while Victor Lopez’s sentencing is June 1.
All three men remain in custody.