Plea hearing postponed for suspects in Tara Romero murder

Tara Romero

Morgan Hill – Thursday’s plea hearing for five suspects accused of shooting and killing 14-year-old Tara Romero last year was delayed.

Esmeling Bahena, 18 of Morgan Hill; Ricardo Diaz, 19 of Morgan Hill; Fernando Mateo Lopez, 20 of Gilroy; Primitivo Hernandez, 23 of San Jose; and Ramon Gutierrez, 17 of Morgan Hill were present in Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose for the hearing. But the hearing was rescheduled for March 1, according to Deputy District Attorney Peter Waite.

The prosecutor said the DA’s office and the suspects’ attorneys are still in the process of sharing evidence and information about the case.

The five suspects are charged with murder and attempted murder, with enhancements for being associated with and illegal street gang.

They are accused of carrying out the Nov. 4, 2011 drive-by shooting at the corner of Cosmo and Del Monte avenues. Police said the suspects drove by the corner, which sits just outside the Village Avante apartment complex, in a Chrysler. They opened fire on a group of teenagers standing near the sidewalk and sped away.

Romero was fatally shot and pronounced dead at the scene. Also shot were Rosa Castaneda, 14; Aliczia Sotelo, 14 and Chris Loredo, 16 – all Sobrato High School students.

All four victims were Sobrato High School students.

Police said the shooting was gang-related, though the victims were not associated with any gang activity. The suspected shooters were affiliated with the Sureno street gang, and mistakenly targeted the group of victims who were waiting for a ride home from a birthday party when the suspects attacked.

Police arrested the suspects shortly after the incident, when an officer on patrol saw their vehicle speed through a stop sign on Spring Avenue. He followed the car to a residence on Barnell Avenue and called for back-up. Officers and the regional SWAT team surrounded the home.

The suspects were arrested without further violence, though one – Hernandez – attempted to hide in a closet while police searched the home, police said.

Found at the home were a loaded .22-caliber revolver and a loaded SKS assault rifle, police said.

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