A Lompoc man must stand trial for the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old boy that also injured two other people in rival gang territory, Lompoc Superior Court Judge Raimundo Montes de Oca ruled Friday afternoon.
Raymond Ramon Vega, who turned 26 on Friday, has been charged with murder and two counts of attempted murder for an October 2019 shooting in Lompoc. He also faces several sentencing enhancements for use of a firearm and participating in a crime to benefit a criminal street gang.
Vega was arrested a few days after 15-year-old Erik Villa Vargas was gunned down in an Oct. 12, 2019, incident that sent two other people to hospitals with injuries.
“I acknowledge that this is a case where it depends in a large measure on circumstantial evidence,” the judge said on the final day of the four-part preliminary hearing that occurred over several months.
However, he said he determined the prosecution team had presented a preponderance of evidence to support Vega standing trial and not having the charges dropped.
It’s up to a jury to decide if, as one witness claimed, the defendant had “distinctive eyes” helping lead to the identification of Vega as one of the alleged shooters.
Lompoc police contend that the shootings in F Street gang territory involved rivals from Lompoc’s VLP gang, which Vega is believed to belong to based on tattoos visible in the courtoom. Before the shooting, one suspect reportedly asked the victims, “Do you bang?”
During the preliminary hearing, Supervising Deputy District Attorney Scott Donahue asked the purpose of that question by someone involved in gangs.
“It’s just a precursor to something violent happening,” Sgt. Sergio Arias said, adding that shootings help instill fear and violent actions help gang members earn respect among their fellow gang members.
In all, 18 shots were fired from 9-mm and .45-caliber weapons, authorities said.
Donahue played surveillance videos showing three people running from the scene with one wearing a blue, zip-up Dodgers jacket and another sporting a black and gray jacket.
At one parking lot on H Street, a surveillance video showed a man bending down near two bushes, presumably to stash some items. The prosecuting attorney suggested the man hid his distinctive jacket and weapon under two bushes.
While the faces of those three suspects could not be seen in the videos, some of their clothing was visible.
Additionally, a police officer who happened to stop Vega as he walked alone on H Street took his picture, pinpointing him as being in the area shortly after the shooting.
Donahue noted a white Suburban, like one owned by Vega’s relative, later was seen in the parking lot, stopping at the two bushes where the defendant allegedly hid items.
Calling it a weak case, defense attorney Michael Scott hammered away at the circumstantial evidence linking his client to the shooting.
He noted that the photo taken of Vega by Lompoc police showed a man wearing clothing that didn’t match the description of the shooters.
“We have a lot of speculation, but not evidence,” Scott said.
He added that the video of the man crouching down near bushes doesn’t show him removing any clothing or hiding a gun, contending the prosecutor was simply speculating that Vega was getting rid of something.
Video of the white Surbuban did not show a license plate or other features, and a dome light never came on to indicate someone got out of the vehicle in the parking lot, Scott said.
The defense attorney also tried to cast doubt on one witness’s identification of Vega as a shooter, noting she failed to mentioned he had a tattoo near his eye.
But Donahue disagreed, noting the victim’s testimony about the shooter likely stemmed from the fact she saw the father of her baby killed and had just been shot herself.
“There’s not speculation going on, your honor. We have facts,” Donahue said.
The other two suspects involved in the shootings remain on the loose.
An arraignment hearing for Vega has been scheduled for July 20 before Santa Maria Superior Court Judge James Voysey.