Hearings approach for murder suspects

Photo by Michael Patrick.

Antonio Barajas, the Hollister man accused of killing 19-year-old Ariana Zendejas in 2014, will appear at San Benito County Superior Court Aug. 16 for the scheduling of a preliminary hearing in the murder case.

Barajas, 24, was arrested by police in Guadalajara, Mexico July 12 on suspicion of murder in relation to the 2014 shooting death of Zendejas. He was deported from Mexico and flown to San Jose, where he was immediately transferred to the San Benito County Jail, according to authorities.

On July 16, Barajas was arraigned and charged with murder, three counts of attempted murder, two counts of kidnapping and shooting a firearm at an occupied motor vehicle. Each charge carries special allegations for using and firing a firearm in the commission of each crime.

Police said in 2014 that Barajas had fired from one vehicle into another in which Zendejas was a passenger, at B and West streets the night of Aug. 1. Authorities identified Barajas as the prime suspect shortly after the shooting, then learned he had fled to Mexico.

Barajas is also charged with kidnapping Vanessa Flores, who was with Barajas when he fled to Mexico, according to authorities. Flores, a friend of Zendejas, appeared alone at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 7, 2015.

The other kidnapping charge, and three attempted murder charges, each relate to separate victims, according to court files.

If convicted of all charges, Barajas faces life in prison.

Hollister police have said locating and arresting Barajas was the result of a coordinated effort by local police, the FBI, ICE, U.S. Marshals, Mexican federal police and Jalisco state police.

DUI suspect accused of killing son

Jesus Mora, a Hollister man accused of killing his 6-year-old son in a drunken driving accident, will appear at San Benito County Superior Court Sept. 11 to schedule his preliminary hearing. He will appear again Sept. 17 for a preliminary examination.

Mora remains in custody at San Benito County Jail on charges of murder, gross vehicular manslaughter, child endangerment, DUI within 10 years of a previous impaired driving offense and driving while his license was suspended.

The charges are related to a Feb. 25 traffic accident in which Mora, 30, crashed his GMC Sierra into a utility pole while driving westbound on McCloskey Road. The accident occurred just east of San Felipe Road.

Mora’s two sons were traveling with him in the front seat at the time of the collision, according to police. His 6-year-old son was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. The other boy, age 7, suffered serious injuries.

Officers suspected Mora of driving under the influence of alcohol when police contacted him at the scene of the accident, and arrested him.

The charges against Mora include enhancements for willfully permitting a child to suffer, causing great bodily injury and for driving with a passenger younger than 14, according to court records. These enhancements could add more years to Mora’s sentence if he is convicted.

Court records also indicate the Feb. 25 accident was not the first time Mora had been accused of driving in an impaired state. Mora was also already facing a previous misdemeanor DUI charge when he crashed on McCloskey Road, according to court records. That charge—stemming from a Nov. 27, 2017 arrest—also included an enhancement for having another DUI within the previous 10 years.

Couple to appear for murder prelim in October

Sang Ji and Jung Choi, both of Hollister, will next appear in San Benito County Superior Court in October for pre-trial proceedings on charges of killing Yoon Ji in December 2017.

Sang Ji, 49, and Jung Choi, 45, were arrested by sheriff’s deputies Dec. 2 on suspicion of killing Yoon Ji. The murder victim was Sang Ji’s wife.

The defendants are scheduled to appear for pre-trial hearings Oct. 12, 22 and 24, according to court documents. Both Sang Ji and Jung Choi remain in custody at San Benito County Jail in lieu of $2.01 million bail.

Investigators from the sheriff’s office found the remains of Yoon Ji, who owned the local Hollister Laundromat with her husband, in December off Salinas Grade Road between San Benito and Monterey counties, outside San Juan Bautista. After their arrest, Sang Ji initially told county law enforcement that the co-defendant is his cousin. However, a separate claim in civil court—filed by the Jis’ adult children—alleges that Jung Choi and Sang Ji were having an extramarital affair.

Yoon Ji’s daughter and sister, who live in Los Angeles, reported her missing Dec. 2. The daughter told sheriff’s authorities that she had not heard from her mother since about two weeks earlier, which was an unusually long time to pass without contact.

Becoming suspicious of their father’s explanations for their mother’s silence, the two women drove to Hollister from Los Angeles to confront Sang Ji, according to authorities. When they arrived at the family home in Hollister, the father was with Jung Choi.

The daughter became increasingly concerned about her missing mother and contacted the sheriff’s office, police said. Authorities acquired a search warrant and found evidence that suggested Yoon Ji had been killed.

A wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Jis’ daughters in late December alleges that their parents’ marriage had been on the rocks in the weeks preceding their mother’s death. Sang Ji and Jung Choi conspired to remove more than $175,000 worth of “community property assets” from a safe in the family home in Hollister, and transfer the proceeds to an associate in South Korea.

Yoon Ji allegedly died of “multiple cranio-cerebral injuries,” according to her daughters’ lawsuit. The defendants allegedly stuffed her body into a suitcase and buried her remains in a ravine on the 2300 block of Salinas Grade Road.

On Feb. 20, San Benito County Superior Court Judge Harry Tobias ordered Sang Ji and Jung Choi to pay each of the two daughters $20 million in damages. The order was a “default judgment” issued after the defendants missed their deadline to respond to the initial wrongful death lawsuit.

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