– A judge ruled Friday there was enough evidence to try three people for the Aug. 10, 2007 fatal shooting of a grandmother who tried to stop one of them from tagging a wall.
The preliminary hearing for Jennifer Tafolla, 22, Richard Rolon, 23, and Cesar Lopez, 22, ended Friday at Norwalk Superior Court.
They’re accused of killing 57-year-old Maria Hicks of Pico Rivera.
Judge Dewey Falcone denied the defense’s motion to dismiss charges of murder, shooting at an occupied vehicle, conspiracy to commit a crime and street terrorism.
He also found true the allegation that the crimes were committed for the benefit of a Pico Rivera-based street gang called Brown Authority.
Falcone ordered Tafolla, Rolon and Lopez to return to court March 15 for an arraignment. He kept their bail at $4,070,000 each.
The fourth defendant and alleged shooter, Angel Rojas, 18, wasn’t part of the hearing.
Deputy District Attorney Mike Enomoto said Rojas has a March 8 trial in another court to determine whether he is mentally competent.
Hicks’ brother, Ruben Quintero, attended the preliminary hearing, which lasted three days.
“We’re completely satisfied the District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Department are doing an excellent job,” Quintero said.
“We’re just looking forward to the trial.”
The four defendants belong to Brown Authority, according to sheriff’s detectives.
The prosecution alleges that on Aug. 10, 2007, the suspects decided to tag a wall because it bore another group’s graffiti.
Tafolla was driving her aunt’s Lincoln Continental and her passengers included Lopez, Rolon, Rolon’s friend, her cousin Rojas, and her 13- and 14-year-old cousins.
The younger cousins weren’t gang members at the time and Rolon’s friend was a member of a Los Angeles street gang.
The suspects’ paths crossed Hicks at San Gabriel River Parkway and Woodford
Street in Pico Rivera.Rolon allegedly ordered Lopez to scrawl over the other group’s graffiti on the wall. Lopez told homicide investigators he didn’t want to, then Rojas ordered him to tag the wall or said he would do it himself. Lopez also saw Rojas had a gun.
Hicks was on her way home when she spotted Lopez allegedly spray painting the wall. She stopped her Honda Element, honked her horn and flashed her headlights.
She followed Lopez when he started walking away.
The Lincoln drove around the area and returned to Woodford Street. Rojas exited and allegedly fired several times at the Honda Element.
One round hit Hicks in the head. She died three days later.
“This is an incident that is absolutely tragic,” said Tafolla’s attorney, Jeffrey Kent.
But he disagreed with the prosecution’s argument that the defendants were on a mission to commit gang-related mayhem.
He pointed out the car’s occupants included two boys who weren’t gang members and a teen who belonged to a Los Angeles gang which wasn’t an ally nor enemy of Brown Authority.
Kent said the tagging was a spontaneous incident and that Tafolla didn’t know Rojas was carrying a gun.
Lopez’s lawyer, Grant Hoagland, said his client thought he would be alone with Tafolla on Aug. 10 and didn’t anticipate committing any gang activity. He said Lopez was coerced to tag the wall and was shown a gun.
“He reluctantly got out of the car. He was angry he had to do this tagging,” Hoagland said.
Enomoto said there’s no evidence Lopez was threatened with the gun.
He also countered the defense attorneys’ argument that he didn’t prove the charge of conspiracy.
“This is a gang crime,” Enomoto said. He said it all stems from gang graffiti and a territorial dispute.