‘A gangland massacre’: Trial begins over triple homicide at Richmond holiday party

‘A gangland massacre’: Trial begins over triple homicide at Richmond holiday party

MARTINEZ — A Contra Costa County jury is set to hear evidence of warring gangs, a string of East Bay killings and a confession that the defense says was coerced by a co-defendant who allegedly killed at least four people while still in his teens.

Enrique Ramirez-Calmo, 29, is now on trial facing charges of murder and attempted murder in the June 20, 2021 mass shooting at a Richmond house party that left three dead and four wounded. It is one of at least seven homicides tied by local authorities to a gang known as the South Side Locos 502 Sureños, a gang based predominantly of Guatemalan-Americans that feuded with a rival Norteño subset from at least 2018 onward, authorities say.

In his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Chad Mahalich called the 2021 shooting a “gangland massacre” perpetrated by two gunmen. He described how the festive occasions — a celebration of Father’s Day and the Guatemalan Summer Solstice — was disrupted by gunfire that seemingly came out of nowhere. One victim was dancing and recording video on his phone, which captured the exact moment he was shot in the head and fell to the ground, dead.

“People were dancing, enjoying the party. A band was playing,” Mahalich said. “And both the defendant and his co-participant opened fire on a yard full of unarmed party goers.”

Andres Morales-Garcia, Rudy Godinez-Aguilar and Hector Rigoberto Carrillo-Ruiz were all killed by SSL-502 members who falsely assumed gang rivals would be at the party, Mahalich said.

Four others, including a young man who was shot in the liver and went into a medically induced coma, were injured. The entire shooting — captured on home surveillance — lasted just four minutes. It later turned out the same guns had been used to shoot up another Guatemalan Solstice Celebration in Oakland just 61 minutes before the triple-homicide in Richmond, Mahalich said.

Gang expert testimony, ballistics evidence and a recounting of Ramirez-Calmo’s own confession to police would prove his guilt by the trial’s end, Mahalich predicted to jurors.

“You make a commitment when you join the Sureño gang. You make a commitment to possess guns, do shootings, and commit murder, especially against rival gang members,” Mahalich said, later adding, “That is the duty, that is the commitment, of a SSL-502 Sureño.”

Ramirez-Calmo’s lawyer, Evan Kuluk, though, cast doubt on the validity of the confession, and to do so he brought up another infamous killing that was linked to the gang. It happened on Oct. 18, 2021, when 31-year-old Carolina Carrillo-Mendoza was lured to the Oakland Hills and shot in the head. A man named Geovani Garcia-Jacinto, who was just 17 at the time, later told Ramirez-Calmo that she had been killed because the gang feared she knew too much about the triple-homicide.

“(Garcia-Jacinto) told (Ramirez-Calmo) that she was murdered for ‘running her mouth’ about the shooting on Dunn Avenue, and that the same thing would happen to Enrique and those he loved if he ever snitched on the gang,” Kuluk told jurors.

That conversation was fresh in Ramirez-Calmo’s mind when he was arrested in 2022 and interrogated about the killings. Kuluk said police first used a paid informant in a failed attempt to trick a confession out of Ramirez-Calmo, them brought him before Richmond investigators after he spent four days in an Alameda County jail. It was then he decided that “he had to take the fall for a murder he did not commit,” to save his family from harm, Kuluk said.

“Enrique did this because he was terrified the gang would follow through on this threat to kill him if he did not confess,” Kuluk said, adding that Ramirez-Calmo’s “reduced mental functioning” caused him to assume police wouldn’t take his confession seriously for the lack of corroborating physical evidence.

Garcia-Jacinto has been charged as a juvenile in connection with the triple homicide, but not Carrillo-Mendoza’s killing. However, an alleged SSL-502 member named Matias Mendoza, 22, was charged with murder in Carrillo-Mendoza’s killing as an aider and abettor, though he ultimately accepted a plea deal to manslaughter, for one day in jail and probation.

Additionally, Garcia-Jacinto has been charged in connection with the February 2022 killing of 22-year-old Erick Ahilon Mendoza in Stockton, a crime that authorities say was motivated by the same gang rivalry. Mahalich also linked a 2019 killing in Oakland — of 25-year-old Ramiro Baustista-Perez — to the gang, adding that Ramirez-Calmo was later found with a shell casing that was linked to that shooting.