SANTA CRUZ -- Another court ruling was issued Tuesday in a case more than a dozen years old -- a Memorial Day weekend shooting of three men on Bixby Street in 2000, a triple slaying that stunned the community.

Judge Paul Marigonda ruled Tuesday that family members of the Salvadoran immigrants were due $72,907 -- far short of the $349,974 awarded in 2009.

The Santa Cruz men -- Vladimir Hernandez, 17, Luis Reyes Escobar, 19, and Javier Gonzales Escalante, 24, -- were killed on May 27, 2000.

Three Watsonville men were charged with murder and later found guilty of lesser charges -- Luis "Danny" Rios, 30, Jesus "Jesse" Salazar, 30, and Salvador "Sal" Garcia, 32. All are now out of custody.

the crime

The deadly night began at the Veterans Memorial Building in Santa Cruz, where the Watsonville men -- who didn't have records or gang ties -- were jumped by supposed gang members because one wore a shirt of an opposing gang's colors, according to past Sentinel reports.

The attackers struck one man with a tire iron and the Watsonville men also later were attacked at an Ocean Street convenience store.

The three returned to Watsonville, got a gun and drove back to Santa Cruz, where they say they were surrounded by threatening men.

A former prosecutor claimed they returned for revenge; defense attorneys claimed they returned to look for friends left behind.


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Rios fired nine times from the car's rear window; at least one victim was shot in the back and another as he dove for the ground.

After a 2003 conviction, Rios was sentenced to 24 years in prison on three counts of involuntary manslaughter and gun charges.

THE APPEALS

But the state 6th District Court of Appeal reversed the convictions of all three and the District Attorney's Office chose to re-try the case against Rios, while Garcia and Salazar served time on six-year sentences.

Rios was convicted again in 2009 -- of involuntary manslaughter and gun enhancements, and a count of firing a gun from a vehicle, prosecutor Celia Rowland said earlier.

In yet another twist, enhancements against Rios were dropped just last month after another ruling by the 6th District court. That Jan. 24 opinion stated justices had ordered the enhancements retried within 60 days; that was not done.

As for restitution, the $349,974 award was to cover funeral expenses and support based on the victims' wages and the percentage sent to family members, Rowland said.

It included support for a baby daughter of one victim until she's 18 and support for 10 years for the other two victims' families, plus lost wages for a victim's cousin who missed work while testifying and preparing for the first trial, Rowland said.

Funeral expenses were $14,875, Marigonda said.

The restitution sparked an appeals court decision too, in 2010, wherein appellate justices ruled that more documentation was needed to prove earnings and support, defense attorney Lisa McCamey said.

TUESDAY'S HEARING

Rowland argued that she had obtained documents from the Salvadoran government certifying the men's relationships, as well as updated probation reports, declarations obtained under penalty of perjury and other evidence, some since the appellate ruling.

McCamey argued that there was no new evidence since the ruling and no receipts or other documentation of the funds sent to family members, nothing but "bare certified statements of the involved parties."

Marigonda said he had to follow the higher court's directive, and that he didn't find sufficient evidence of wage loss for the cousin who "testified bravely," and didn't think he had sufficient evidence for Escobar's claim.

For Hernandez, Marigonda said sufficient evidence was found for one year and he awarded $29,925 to Hernandez's daughter. Hernandez had earned $15 per hour in construction, he said. For Escalante, Marigona said one year had been proven, awarding $28,080 to his parents.

McCamey said after the hearing Marigonda's decision was fair. She said the men were always willing to pay a fair amount.

Rowland stated the District Attorney's Office was disappointed with the Court of Appeal's apparent belief that impoverished people in El Salvador should have documentation to prove support from a loved one who immigrated for the express purpose of supporting his family, and disappointed the court found that declarations under penalty of perjury are not sufficient to establish that support.

She said it was particularly disappointing because justices required receipts be submitted as documentation, despite the passage of 12 years, saying that was unrealistic for most anyone, and particularly so in this case.

No previous appellate or supreme court case has required receipts, though this appellate decision is unpublished and has no precedential value, she said. The District Attorney's Office will discuss a possible appeal with the Attorney General's Office, she said.

Follow Sentinel reporter Cathy Kelly on Twitter at Twitter.com/cathykelly9