Suspects plead not guilty in Libby Lake Park shootings

Suspects plead not guilty in Libby Lake Park shootings
Superior Court Judge Kimberlee Lagotta granted Deputy District Attorney Christine Bannon’s (left) request to order all four to be held without bail. The defendants are scheduled to return to court April 17. Photo by Promise Yee

VISTA — The four suspects arrested in connection with the Libby Lake Park shooting that killed two teens and injured two others March 13 each entered a not guilty plea to charges April 3. 

Martin Melendrez, 21, Santo Diaz, 19, and Michael Zurita, 19, have each been charged with two counts of murder and attempted murder. They were also charged with a special circumstance allegation of committing multiple murders, which could bring the death penalty.

The fourth defendant, Kevin Brizuela, 17, is being tried as an adult on murder and attempted murder charges. He faces the possibility of life in prison without parole. Because he is a minor, prosecutors cannot pursue the death penalty.

Vista Superior Court Judge Kimberlee Lagotta granted Deputy District Attorney Christine Bannon’s request to order all four to be held without bail.

Bannon said the four defendants drove together to the park armed with multiple weapons and ambushed the teens seated on a couch at a makeshift memorial site on the park hillside. The memorial stood in remembrance of two teens fatally shot in 2011.

The March 13 shooting has been deemed to be gang related.

“It appears to have been a retaliatory response in an ongoing gang rivalry,” Bannon said.

The four defendants have been identified as members of the same gang. The name of the gang has not been disclosed.

It is not know if the teens shot on March 13 were targeted. Melanie Virgen, 13, and Edgar Sanchez, 15, died at the site of the shooting. Two other teens were wounded. One still remains in the hospital.

Bannon said she does not believe any of the four victims were gang members.

The defendants are scheduled to return to court April 17.

 

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