Southern California federal judges recently studied a case involving an argument that broke out in a Santa Ana restaurant among two groups of alcohol-consuming diners who took opposing stances on a question: Is Sinaloa or Michoacan the superior state in Mexico?
Angry obscenities were hurled. Isais Mora and other members of his larger group, which supported the Michoacan side, eventually waited in the Mariscos la Ola parking lot for the pro-Sinaloa group, which included a stumbling Ivan Sanchez. When the two groups faced off, Mora punched Sanchez in the face before his allies joined in the beating.
Sanchez and his group managed to flee in a Ford Explorer, retrieve a gun and return to the parking lot about 15 minutes later to seek revenge for being insulted. When they arrived, they saw Esteban Navarrete near his vehicle with his wife, his niece and his niece’s boyfriend, all of whom had been inside the restaurant to witness the argument while having nothing to do with it.
But 21-year-old Sanchez pointed a gun at Navarrete, who pleaded, “It’s not us!” according to police reports. Without saying a word, Sanchez fired the weapon, striking the 35-year-old in the head and killing him.
When Santa Ana Police Department Officer Jim Garcia interviewed Sanchez after his attempted flight to Mexico, the suspect explained he’d “felt disrespected because I was with a girl” and he “wanted to get them back because what they done [sic] to us.” Informed Navarrete wasn’t Mora, Sanchez said the victim’s shirt reminded him of Mora’s.
An Orange County jury in September 2012 convicted Sanchez of first-degree murder after a two-day trial, and a judge later sentenced him to a prison term of 50 years to life. But the inmate has been working from prison to overturn his conviction by claiming he did not commit a premeditated murder because he’d acted in “an unplanned assault spurred by drunken anger.”
He added that he’d been “extremely intoxicated.”
In February, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym noted, “Evidence of voluntary intoxication is not a defense to first-degree murder,” as well as that “contrary to the petitioner’s contention, a rational trier of fact can interpret the evidence as establishing his actions were willful, deliberate and premeditated.” Pym issued a recommendation to reject the appeal, as the California Court of Appeal had previously done.
U.S. District Court Judge Ronald S.W. Lew adopted that stance and closed the case in recent days.
Sanchez, now 30, will continue to serve his punishment inside Ironwood State Prison in Blythe.
Two others—Maria Isabel Rocha and her brother Ricardo Guerra Rocha—were also sentenced to prison for their roles in the murder case.
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.