SANTA ANA — A jury convicted a gang member Thursday of fatally slashing the throat of an 18-year-old La Habra man outside a Halloween party in 2009, officials said.
Steven Salvador Hernandez, 19, of La Habra faces up to 15 years to life in prison when he returns to court July 27 for sentencing for the Oct. 31, 2009 killing of Joshua Mora-Rodriguez — a recent high school graduate and son of two Los Angeles police detectives who was preparing to join the Army, said Senior Deputy District Attorney Chris Duff, who prosecuted the case.
The jury found him guilty of second-degree murder and street terrorism, and also found that the crime was gang-related.
Mora-Rodriguez, on the other hand, had no gang ties, Duff said.
“He had just graduated from high school and was getting ready to join the army,” he said.
Two other suspects, 17-year-old Rene Antonio Lobos and 22-year-old Francisco Nuno, both of La Habra, are due for trial May 30 in Santa Ana Superior Court, prosecutors said. Hernandez, who was 17 at the time of the killing, and Lobos, who was 15, were both charged as adults.
The fatal attack took place shortly before midnight at a Halloween gathering of about 40 people hosted by a female friend of one of the suspects in the 1000 block of East Francis Avenue, Duff said.
Two of Mora-Rodriguez’s friends had been beaten up by several other young men earlier in the evening, prior to the fatal confrontation, the prosecutor said.
As the victim and his two friends left the party, they got into a verbal argument with two of the young men they had been fighting with, Duff said.
A fight broke out, he said.
“The rest of the gang members (six to eight) jumped on,” Duff said. “The witnesses basically described it as an ambush.”
“Nuno is accused of beating the victim with his fists and Lobos is accused of beating the victim with a baseball bat while Hernandez stabbed the victim’s neck with a knife,” district attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
The knife severed Mora-Rodriguez’s carotid artery, and he bled out within minutes, Duff said.
Police found Lobos and Nunez with blood on their clothing and arrested them at the scene, officials said. Hernandez was arrested several weeks later.
The knife used in the stabbing was recovered from a neighbors home, still bloody and wrapped in clothing, Duff said.
“DNA established not only that it was the murder weapon, but that it was (Hernandez’s) clothing,” he said.
Like Hernandez, Nuno and Lobos have also been charged with second-degree murder and street terrorism, with the additional allegation that the crime was gang-related. If convicted as charged, they also face up to 15 years to life in prison.