MURRIETA, CA – Jury selection began Monday after an alleged gang member was tried in a 2017 bar shooting in Cathedral City that seriously injured a man.
Thomas Zaragoza, 39, of Desert Hot Springs, is charged with opening fire on Mike Avila after an argument broke out at the current location of Henry’s Sports Bar & Grill on Ramon Road and Date Palm Drive on July 26, 2017 was.
Zaragoza is charged with attempted murder, assault with a gun, assault on a person who causes serious assault and criminal street gang activities. He also faces several allegations related to gun and gang convictions.
Riverside County Supreme Court Justice Timothy Freer called several panels of potential jurors for review at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta. It is unclear how many days the review process can take due to new public health protocols limiting courtroom capacity.
Zaragoza was arrested along with three other men: Andrew Monroy, 26, and Carlos Rodriguez, 29, who both live in Cathedral City; and Ricky Ceballos, 28, from Desert Hot Springs. These three men pleaded guilty to the case.
Prosecutors say the four men argued with the victim at the bar before a fight broke out. According to the victim’s family, he was at the bar that evening celebrating his wife’s birthday.
Witnesses testified during a preliminary hearing in August 2017 that an argument sparked for unknown reasons resulted in the suspects engaged in a fight with Avila shortly before 11 p.m. One of the men reportedly swung the victim twice but was unable to contact any blow.
Zaragoza later allegedly pulled out a pistol and shot Avila at least five times, hitting him in the stomach and hand.
The gunfire also hit another man in the foot, and that man allegedly said you could hear Avila telling the suspects, “Hey, I don’t even know who you are. I just want to go.”
Witnesses alleged that Avila grabbed a pool cue to defend himself and was then shot while running away from the defendants.
The four men were arrested at a Banning gas station two days after the shooting.
According to his family, Avila had multiple operations and was hospitalized in the intensive care unit for several months after the shootings.
Monroy, Rodriguez and Ceballos reached an agreement with prosecutors in return for several charges being dropped in January 2020. The three men pleaded guilty to causing assault and admitted to sentencing the gang and were each sentenced to eight years in prison.
The men were originally charged with attempted murder, assault with a weapon, and gang activity, which were turned down in return for their request.
It is unclear whether the former Zaragoza co-defendants were asked to testify against him in exchange for their admission.
Zaragoza, convicted of crimes such as spouse molestation and petty theft with superiors, is being held at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside on $ 1 million bail.
– City news service