Carlos Balderas, 21, died that night of a single shotgun blast to his chest and armpit area. Deputy medical examiner Bethann Schaber estimated that the shot was fired from a distance of several feet. Balderas was found in a dark vacant lot near Pine Avenue Community Park, which is across the street from Chase Field. “He was just killed by friendly fire,” prosecutor Geoff Allard told the court.
The prosecutor showed photos of a large Hispanic man on his back in a dirt lot amid a smattering of weeds. Evidence markers showed where two spent shotgun shells were found near the body. A cell phone and car keys were found on the deceased man, according to Carlsbad police detective Bryan Hargett.
A Carlsbad native, Hargett was a ten-year veteran of the city’s police department and a gang specialist. He said Varrio Carlsbad Locos is a traditional, turf-oriented gang, and it has about 150 members.
A 28-gauge Iver Johnson single-shot shotgun was recovered from a crawl space in Javier Lopez’s home, along with 20 rounds of ammunition. In the same home, police recovered bloodstained clothing and shoes that had been bleached, Hargett said. The bloodied items were found in a washing machine.
When asked where he got the shotgun, Javier Lopez first told a “bogus” and “ridiculous” story about wrestling the shotgun away from the Carlsbad gang, according to Allard. Javier also told investigators he wrestled away the 20 rounds of shotgun ammunition.
Javier was booked into Vista jail on April 5, 2009. Barraza was taken into custody the next day.
The prosecutor believed it was Javier who mistakenly killed Balderas with a shotgun blast, according to statements in court documents. The prosecutor also alleged this foursome of Encinitas gang members was armed with at least one handgun and one shotgun that night.
All three suspects — Victor Lopez, Javier Lopez, and Jose Barraza — were charged with murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy, and each was held in lieu of $5 million bail.
Judge Weber ordered Jose Barraza and Javier Lopez to stand trial for murder, but on the day set for trial, December 1, 2010, both men pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
Jose Barraza has at least two prior felony convictions for stealing cars listed in court records, starting in 2001, when he would have been 18 years old. Barraza pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and admitted the gang and felon-in-possession-of-firearm allegations and was sentenced to 24 years in prison. He is 28 years old.
Javier Lopez had a prior felony conviction in 2008 for car burglary. He was out on probation for that offense when he participated in the gang shooting. In the plea deal, Javier Lopez pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and admitted two special allegations: gang criminal and felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to 31 years in prison. He is 21 years old now.
Victor Lopez is now 23. Victor said his prior convictions included a grand theft robbery in 2005 when he was a juvenile, a misdemeanor weapons offense in 2007, and a burglary conviction for which he went to prison in 2008. Victor was out on parole for the burglary conviction when he volunteered his mother’s car for the botched raid into Carlsbad. On March 9, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison.