MURRIETA – Two men and a 16-year-old accused of killing a 16-year- old East Hemet boy while trying to take his cellphone must stand trial for first-degree murder and other charges, a judge ruled today.
Francisco Roy Zavala, 21, of Hemet, Francisco Siordia, 18, of San Jacinto and Joseph Venegas, 16, of Hemet are accused in the Jan. 14, 2013, slaying of Eric Ronald Sargeant Jr.
Following a preliminary hearing at the Southwest Justice Center, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Michael Rushton found there was sufficient evidence to bound the trio over for trial on the murder count, as well as a special circumstance allegation of killing in the course of a robbery and a sentence-enhancing great bodily injury allegation.
Though Siordia and Venegas were minors at the time of the crime, they’re being tried as adults and could face life in prison if convicted. Zavala is eligible for the death penalty, but the District Attorney’s Office has not decided whether to pursue capital punishment.
All three defendants, who are being held without bail, are scheduled to appear for a post-preliminary hearing arraignment on March 7.
Sargeant was stabbed nine or 10 times near the intersection of Acacia Avenue and Cherrywood Drive, near his home, authorities said.
According to sheriff’s investigators, who testified during the preliminary hearing, Zavala and his co-defendants were walking to a liquor store when they spotted Sargeant alone, talking or texting on his phone.
The defendants confronted him, demanding that he hand over his phone, but Sargeant refused, at which point Zavala pulled a seven-inch kitchen knife and began slashing and stabbing the victim, witnesses and investigators allege.
”There was testimony that he suffered a number of nicks and cuts, but there were also several significant injuries, including two stab wounds to the upper chest,,” Deputy District Attorney Dan DeLimon told City News Service.
Sargeant collapsed into a gutter after the attack, and passers-by came to his aid. The alleged assailants fled — Siordia and Venegas to a relative’s house a half-mile away, and Zavala to his family’s residence in the same area, according to investigators.
Sargeant lived another five hours and was able to briefly speak with detectives prior to going into surgery, DeLimon said. The teen died on the operating table.
According to the prosecution, the defendants share a familial connection. During interviews with detectives, Siordia and Venegas both pointed to Zavala as the aggressor in the attack and claimed they were not aware of what he planned to do.
According to court records, Zavala has a 2011 conviction for burglary and a 2010 conviction for vandalism. Two weeks after he was sentenced to probation for the latter crime, he committed the burglary, resulting in a prison sentence, records show.