Drive-by suspects’ hearing postponed again

Fernando Mateo Lopez, 20, from Gilroy, at a previous hearing for

The mother of Tara Romero, 14, a victim of last November’s drive-by shooting in west Morgan Hill was asked to leave the courtroom during a hearing Friday for the five suspects accused of the murder. 

Annette Nevarez, of Morgan Hill, brought a photo of her daughter’s face to display on her lap during the hearing, but a Santa Clara County Superior Court bailiff asked her to leave. 

“I had this picture so these criminals could see what they’ve done,” Nevarez said. 

Romero was shot to death Nov. 4, 2011, near the intersection of Cosmo and Del Monte avenues when a group of men drove by and opened fire on her and a group of her friends who were standing on the corner waiting for a ride home. Three of her friends were also shot, and continue to recover from their injuries. 

Friday’s hearing was held to hear arguments in a motion filed by the five defendants to gain access to uncensored police reports related to the incident. The judge did not reach a decision on the motion. 

The hearing will continue July 19 at the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice in San Jose, according to Santa Clara County deputy district attorney Peter Waite. 

Prosecutors for the state want to limit the defendants’ access to the unredacted police records as such disclosure might endanger the witnesses and victims, Waite said last month. 

The five defendants are 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. They are charged with murder and attempted murder with the special circumstance of carrying out the crime to further their illegal street gang involvement, authorities said. 

They were arrested the same night that Romero was shot and killed, police said. 

At a previous hearing for the suspects, friends and other supporters of Romero’s wore T-shirts with pictures of the fallen Sobrato High School freshman’s face printed on the front, Nevarez said. Courtroom security staff asked them to remove the T-shirts, turn them inside out or turn them backwards. 

The court does not have its own policy, but sometimes audience members at courtroom proceedings are prohibited from wearing T-shirts or clothing with any pictures printed on them, according to Santa Clara County Superior Court spokeswoman Gloria Chacon. 

There is also not a policy for the display of photographs, but it’s “up to the judge’s discretion” whether or not specific items should be allowed, Chacon added.

A phone call to the courtroom Monday could not determine why the judge or bailiff asked Nevarez to leave the courtroom with Romero’s photo. 

Also shot and injured in the Nov. 4 drive-by attack were Rosa Castaneda, 14, Alicia Sotelo, 15, and Chris Loredo, 16. All four were Sobrato students at the time of the shooting. 

While the suspects are thought to be associated with a criminal street gang and carried out the shooting for that gang, police have said the victims are not associated with any gang-related activity and were likely targeted by mistake. They were waiting at the intersection for a ride home from a birthday party at the nearby Community Park. 

Leave your comments