A Hollister man who killed local teen Ariana Zendejas in 2014 and then fled to Mexico was sentenced to prison in a San Benito County courtroom this week. 

Judge Gilbert T. Brown on April 11 sentenced Jose Antonio Barajas, 27, to a combined prison term of 47 years to life, according to authorities. Barajas had been convicted by a jury in January of one count of premeditated, willful and deliberate murder, attempted murder and kidnapping. Each count included an enhancement for the use of a firearm, says a press release from San Benito County District Attorney Candice Hooper’s office. 

Jose Barajas

“With the return of the guilty verdict, the Zendejas family and those affected have been provided justice and are hopefully able to bring a sense of closure to this chapter of their lives,” Hooper said in the press release. “The Zendejas family lost the presence of an exceptional young woman of promise who was taken much too soon.”

Barajas’ conviction and sentencing are related to a deadly Aug. 1, 2014 shooting on public streets in Hollister. Barajas shot and killed 18-year-old Zendejas during a confrontation with another man, according to authorities. Barajas was a passenger in a vehicle chasing another car that had four occupants, including the male driver with whom Barajas had previously been feuding. Zendejas was a passenger in the back seat of the vehicle that Barajas was chasing.

Barajas opened fire with a handgun on the victims’ vehicle near B and West streets, hitting Zendejas with at least one of the bullets, according to police. The driver of the victims’ vehicle drove Zendejas to Hazel Hawkins Hospital, where police responded shortly after the shooting. Zendejas was pronounced dead later that evening.

Barajas fled the area with the two occupants of the vehicle in which he was riding at the time of the shooting, and later left the country, according to police. He was arrested July 12, 2018, in Guadalajara, Mexico in relation to the Hollister shooting. He was extradited from Mexico and flown to San Jose, where he was transferred to the San Benito County Jail.

The January 2022 trial was a retrial of an earlier proceeding in which the jury convicted him only of one count: shooting at an occupied vehicle, says the DA’s press release. The jury in the first trial was hung on five other counts, and a mistrial was declared on those charges. 

Hooper tried the case for the state at the local courthouse. The DA gave credit to officers and detectives of the Hollister Police Department for “tirelessly” investigating the murder of Zendejas and bringing Barajas into custody. 

Following Barajas’ sentencing hearing on April 11, the Hollister Police Department released a statement on social media. 

“We grieve for the Zendejas family and can only hope that Barajas’ proven guilt and now this sentence begins to bestow some sense of closure for them,” says the statement from Hollister PD. “No action by any law enforcement agency or court can restore Ariana’s life, but we hold her and her family close in our hearts. Ariana’s story touched us in so many ways, and she will forever be a part of this department and our community.”

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.


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