MERCED - Closing arguments were heard Tuesday in the case against a Dos
Palos teenager charged with killing a rival gang member last year.
Ryan O. Suarez, 16, has pleaded not guilty to killing John Cordero-Juarez
on June 23, 2013, at Reynolds Park in South Dos Palos. If convicted, the
teenager, who has been charged as an adult, faces a maximum sentence of
25 years to life in prison.
A jury of eight women and four men heard closing arguments Tuesday after
a weeklong trial before Judge Ronald W. Hansen in Merced Superior Court.
Prosecutors said Suarez was “on the hunt” for gang rivals after
the death of Francisco Almaraz, who was gunned down five days earlier
on June 18, 2013.
Mathew Martinez, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, said
Suarez spotted Cordero-Juarez in the park, pulled a weapon from his pants
and opened fire. Martinez said Suarez fired at least seven shots, two
of which struck the victim in the back as Cordero-Juarez tried to run away.
“He disabled the victim by shooting him in the leg and it broke his
femur,” Martinez told the jury. “And the defendant stood over
him and finished him off. The victim was on the ground crawling away,
probably begging for his life.”
Martinez argued that Suarez initiated the violence, could have walked away
at any time and should be convicted of first-degree murder.
Jeffrey Tenenbaum, told jurors his client should be convicted only of manslaughter, saying
it was Cordero-Juarez who initiated the incident by “staring down”
Suarez and brandishing a steak knife as a weapon.
“It was a very, very heated moment,” Tenenbaum said. “My
client is guilty of a crime, and the crime is manslaughter. It’s
Tenenbaum criticized the murder charge, calling it “so far out there
it’s hard to believe.”
“There’s simply no evidence of first-degree murder. None. There’s
no evidence that my client shot him in cold blood,” Tenenbaum said.
Tenenbaum argued it was more likely that an “irrational, irresponsible”
teenager was lashing out in desperate, perhaps unfounded, fear for his
own safety than it was to believe he had a larger, premeditated, deadly
plan orchestrated to promote the interests of a well-known prison gang.
The defense attorney noted the key witness in the case, a teenage girl
who was with the victim in the park that day, changed her story several
times, first saying she witnessed the shooting, then saying she only heard
shots fired, but did not see the shooting because she was running away.
Martinez countered by noting the witness’ statements about what she
claimed to have seen matched up exactly with the physical evidence in
the case, particularly the trajectory of the bullets fired into the victim’s
body while he was on the ground. Martinez called Suarez “a cold-blooded
“You don’t get to claim self-defense when you have a gun and
they, at best, have a knife and you shoot them in the back as they are
running away,” Martinez said. “The victim literally brought
a knife to a gunfight, so he runs away. There is no self-defense.”
Jury deliberations began late yesterday and resume today.