Two Los Palillos gang members plead guilty to avoid death penalty

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Two leaders of the violent Mexican drug trafficking gang “Los Palillos,” already convicted of multiple murders and kidnappings in San Diego County, Friday pleaded guilty to unresolved counts in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.

Jorge Rojas Lopez, 35, and Juan Estrada Gonzalez, 34, will be sentenced to multiple terms of life in prison without parole at a hearing Oct. 15.

A third Los Palillos gang member, 43-year-old Jorge Salvador Moreno, also pleaded guilty today to multiple murder counts in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. His sentencing was set for Aug. 25.

Edgar Frausto Lopez, 40, is still awaiting trial in which he faces the death penalty if convicted.

A fourth defendant, 41-year-old Jesus Gonzalez, also faces trial but is not facing the death penalty because he was extradited from Mexico to the United States.

Rojas and Estrada Gonzalez already were serving life-without-parole sentences when they were convicted in January. Rojas was convicted of four murders, Estrada Gonzalez was found guilty of six killings.

In March, jurors deadlocked on whether to recommend death or life in prison without parole and prosecutors said they would retry the penalty phase of trial.

Outside court today, attorneys for Rojas, Estrada Gonzalez and Frausto Lopez thanked District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis for allowing their clients to plead guilty so they could avoid a possible death sentence.

“It was difficult, I’m certain, and we appreciate the time she took to do so,” said Ricardo Garcia, one of Rojas’ attorneys. Garcia also thanked jurors who sat on the case for 14 months, making the trial for Rojas and Estrada Gonzalez was one of the longest in state history.

One of the attorneys for Frausto Lopez, Stephen Cline, said Dumanis made the decision to accept the guilty pleas as a penalty phase retrial grew nearer.

“As the team sitting in the back row waiting to go next, this has been very difficult for us, and my client and his family and all of the above because of all that’s gone on here,” Cline said.

Deputy District Attorney Dan Owens told the jury during the penalty phase that Rojas and Estrada Gonzalez “imported their brand of cartel violence and put it on the streets of San Diego for all of us to see.”

Owens said the defendants were “evil men” who committed “evil deeds” out of revenge and greed, including shooting at a Chula Vista police officer and murdering two men on a ranch in San Ysidro, then dissolving their bodies in acid.

The “beginning of the end” for Rojas Lopez and Estrada Gonzalez came on June 16, 2007, when they and three fellow gang members were arrested after kidnapping a wealthy businessman and holding him for ransom in a Chula Vista home for eight days, according to prosecutors.

Categories: KUSI