DOWNTOWN L.A. — Just one day before the four-year anniversary of when two Santa Monica men were fatally shot during a birthday party at the Moose Lodge, a jury found two suspected gang members guilty of their murders.
Jose Mojarro and Erick Nunez, both 24, were convicted of two counts each of first-degree murder on Wednesday after jurors spent three days in deliberations. Mojarro was also found guilty of the special circumstance that he murdered the victims while actively engaged with a criminal street gang. Both were also convicted of multiple murder special circumstances and allegations that they committed the crime to benefit a criminal street gang.
The two men, who face life in prison without the possibility of parole, are due back in court for sentencing on March 20. A third suspect in the murders, William “Willie” Vasquez, is also scheduled to appear in court for his pretrial hearing that same day. They are all suspected of being members of the 18th Street gang Alsace clique.
“Given that the jury convicted on everything, I believe justice was served,” said Deputy District Attorney Alan Schneider of the Hardcore Gang Division. “There are no winners in murder cases as we can’t bring the victims back, just holding those responsible accountable for their actions.”
The Moose Lodge on Ocean Park Boulevard was the site of the gruesome murders on March 5, 2005 when Jonathan Hernandez and Hector Bonilla were shot and killed during a birthday party attended by 80 to 100 people at the time. The defendants reportedly used a 9 millimeter, semi-automatic weapon in the double homicide, shooting 26 rounds at the victims and continuing as they lay motionless on the floor, Schneider said during the trial, adding that Bonilla and Hernandez were thought to be associated with the Santa Monica 13 gang.
While satisfied with the verdict, Hernandez’ mother Natalie Preciado said she was still hurting from the loss of her son.
“I just hope that during the sentencing they receive life in prison without parole so that they don’t kill another human being,” she said.
Preciado said that her son was not a gang member and had aspirations of becoming a psychologist and working with at-risk youth.
“We got justice, but it still hurts. … I will never get my son back,” she said.
Mojarro was taken into custody several months after the shootings when he was picked up for a parole violation. Nunez was apprehended in January 2006 after a violent pursuit in which he took a family hostage and shot an AK47 at L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies. He was found guilty in that case about two years ago and sentenced to 194 years to life in state prison.
Vasquez’ trial is expected to begin later this year and the District Attorney’s Office intends to seek the death penalty. He will be on trial for the deaths of Bonilla and Hernandez as well as three other murders.
Schneider, who will prosecute the case, said the Mojarro-Nunez verdict will not affect the outcome of Vasquez’ trial.
During the trial, Schneider spoke of an atmosphere in which witnesses feared the threat of gang retaliation for speaking out, claiming that they were in the bathroom during the shootings. There was eyewitness testimony and other corroborative evidence, Schneider said.
“The brutal nature of these murders in the middle of a crowded party clearly intimidated and shocked many of the witnesses,” he said. “The 18th Street gang gets their power in large part through violence and intimidation of the community, rival gangs, and witnesses.”