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The Modesto Bee
By Susan Herendeen, firstname.lastname@example.org
last updated: March 03, 2009 10:26:35 PM
14 at the time, Modesto boy could face multiple life terms
Twelve jurors on Tuesday began deliberating a case that will force them to make a terrible decision: What to do with a defendant who was 14 when he acted as if the streets of south Modesto were a “Grand Theft Auto” game simulation.
Angel Jose Cabanillas, a member of a Sureño street gang known as South Side Tréce, faces multiple life terms in prison if convicted of 11 felonies alleged by the Stanislaus County district attorney’s office.
On June 10, 2006, the teen, his older brother and a buddy grabbed a rifle, piled into a blue Honda and headed into enemy territory.
The trio drove to a neighborhood west of Crows Landing Road which is dubbed “Deep South Side Modesto” by residents who affiliate with Norteño gangs then, according to authorities, shouted slogans and opened fire on perfect strangers who happened to be outside.
According to witnesses, the boys passed a house on Almaden Way three times, making threats against a crowd of people gathered at a birthday party, including children jumping in an inflatable bounce house.
On the third pass, the witnesses say, Cabanillas opened fire as partygoers ran for cover. Manuel Rayas, 28, of San Francisco was killed. Thirteen minutes later, about 6:10 p.m., the boys were spotted near the Seventh Street Bridge, then were arrested after a short pursuit.
The trio 14, 16 and 17 at the time are being tried as adults.
Back-seat passenger Pedro Julian Cabanillas, now 18, pleaded no contest to assault with a firearm and discharging a firearm from a vehicle. He is to be sentenced next month. Driver Isidoro Mata, now 19, faces a separate trial.
During the five-week trial of Angel Cabanillas, the defense and prosecution have agreed that he shot and killed Rayas, shot and wounded a man on nearby Spokane Street, and pointed the rifle at others on Montavenia and Parducci drives.
So, the main question for the jury revolves around the teen’s ability to form the intent required for a first-degree murder conviction.
Angel Cabanillas, now 17, is too young to join the military or sign a contract or purchase alcohol. In his closing argument, defense attorney Martin Baker argued that his client’s age, coupled with depression and intoxication, prevented him from making rational decisions.
According to his lawyer, Cabanillas joined the gang when he was 12, but was torn between two worlds. He had been feeding information to a Modesto police officer, but still hung around with his gang buddies.
Mental illness diagnosis
The troubled teen was released from juvenile hall where a psychiatrist prescribed an antipsychotic medication along with pills for depression and a sleeping disorder only five days before the shooting spree.
Cabanillas called for help the day after his release because he didn’t have any medications, but he didn’t get the pills until after his arrest, when a psychiatrist diagnosed him with depression and auditory hallucinations.
“He knew he couldn’t think straight without his medications,” Baker said. “He tried, but no one came to help him.”
Cabanillas did not claim innocence because of insanity, a defense that is rarely successful. So, jurors must decide if Raya’s death was murder or manslaughter, then evaluate other charges related to the aiming or shooting of the gun at three other homes.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 banned capital punishment for minors.
Deputy District Attorney Brad Nix rejected the notion that mental health issues minimize Cabanillas’ culpability, telling jurors that the deliberate nature of the shootings shows that the teen had the presence of mind to take aim and fire over and over again.
Cabanillas knew how dangerous guns are, the prosecutor said, because he had been shot in the head during a previous gang incident. Cabanillas and his crew also had the presence of mind to target people wearing red, the prosecutor said, the color associated with Norteño street gangs.
The prosecutor said Cabanillas should be held accountable for a murderous, unprovoked shooting spree.
“In every single case,” Nix said, “they went after families out enjoying their own front yards.”
Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2338.