Murder called gang retaliation

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SAN DIEGO – Two gang members fatally shot a man in Skyline five years ago in retaliation for one of them being beaten up 10 days earlier by the victim, a prosecutor said today, but attorneys for both defendants said authorities lacked sufficient evidence to prove their clients carried out the Halloween night murder.   

In his closing argument, Deputy District Attorney Christopher Lawson said Michael Jay Aguon, 24, and Rafael Meraz, 20, and an unidentified third assailant went to the home of Vidal Balderas Jr. the night of Oct. 31, 2007, to atone for the disrespect the victim had shown when he and other family members beat up Meraz and took away his gun on Oct. 21, 2007.   

Meraz — who has had ridden up to the Balderas residence shouting gang slogans, according to court testimony.

A confidential informant testified that Aguon bragged about the shooting two days after Balderas was killed.   

“They saw it as an opportunity to strike back,” Lawson told the jury in his summation. “This is the life these guys were leading.”   

Balderas, 32, was confronted about 7:45 p.m. after taking his daughter trick-or-treating. He was shot twice on the patio, then three more times as he staggered out front, Lawson said.   

One of the assailants said, “What’s up? What’s up now?” as Balderas was shot, his sister told police.

A gun was never recovered, but police found a skeleton mask and black bandana — similar to ones worn by the attackers — during a search of Meraz’s home. His attorney, Jane Gilbert, told the jury that the victim’s sister described just one shooter and eyewitnesses out trick-or-treating described seeing one person running from the scene.   

“He (Meraz) didn’t shoot him (Balderas), and there’s no evidence that he was there,” Gilbert said. Bart Sheela, the attorney for Aguon, said the confidential informant was
a seven-time convicted felon who didn’t get her story straight.

“You can’t trust his (Aguon’s) life to her (the informant),” Sheela told the jury. “Mikey had nothing to do with it.” Sheela said Aguon was home the night of the murder helping his grandmother hand out Halloween candy.

Aguon and Meraz each face 50 years to life in prison if convicted.