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October 2, 2023

Murder trials delayed

Motions by defense lawyers to be heard by judge

The suspect accused of killing 19-year-old Ariana Zendejas was to next appear in court Aug. 30, where his attorney will argue that five of the charges against him should be dismissed due to insufficient evidence.

The suspect, Jose Antonio Barajas, also is scheduled to appear Sept. 12 for a hearing to set his trial date, according to San Benito County Superior Court records.

Barajas is charged with six counts in relation to the 2014 shooting death of Zendejas in Hollister: murder, three counts of attempted murder, kidnapping and shooting at an occupied motor vehicle.

Jose Antonio Barajas

Zendejas was shot and killed during a confrontation on public streets between Barajas and 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 attempted murder charges are related to three other occupants of the vehicle in which Zendejas was a passenger, according to court files. The kidnapping charge is related to the female driver of the vehicle from which Barajas fired his gun, as prosecutors have argued he forced the woman to flee the area while he pointed a gun at her from the passenger’s seat.

Barajas’ attorney, Greg LaForge, argued in a court filing earlier this month that the murder, attempted murder and kidnapping charges should be dismissed. The motion argues that Barajas shot at the vehicle without “malice aforethought,” an essential element to a murder conviction.

The motion also noted that Barajas and the driver of the alleged victims’ vehicle had a longstanding beef. Hours before the shooting, the driver of the other vehicle, Gabriel Orozco, had vandalized Barajas’ vehicle with a hatchet, LaForge’s motion noted.

“The defendant did not intend to kill the victim, the defendant was armed, assumingly scared because his vehicle got vandalized with a hatchet earlier,” reads the motion. LaForge also argued that Barajas was aiming for the targeted vehicle’s tires when he opened fire.

LaForge also disputed the DA’s argument that Barajas kidnapped the female driver of the car he was in. The DA argued that Barajas pointed the gun at her after the shooting, while she continued driving, in an effort to force her to flee the area.

But LaForge’s motion argues, “The same conclusion can be made that he was resting the firearm on his lap and the barrel was inadvertently pointing in her direction.”

The female driver eventually made it home safely, according to court records.

The charges against Barajas also include “special allegations” for his use of a firearm in the crime, according to court documents. If convicted, Barajas faces life in prison.

Laundromat murder suspects

The murder trial for the husband of Yoon Ji and his alleged accomplice has been delayed multiple times this summer, most recently after the defendants filed motions that could limit the evidence that can be presented in court.

Sang Ji and Jung Choi

Suspects Sang Ji, 49, and Jung Choi, 45, are both scheduled to appear Sept. 11 at San Benito County Courthouse. The court is scheduled to hear a motion filed by Sang Ji to dismiss statements Ji made to sheriff’s investigators after he was arrested in December 2017, according to court files. Also on Sept. 11, the court will hear a motion by Jung Choi to sever her trial from that of Sang Ji.

The two suspects remain in custody at San Benito County Jail on suspicion of murdering Yoon Ji. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Sang Ji and Yoon Ji owned Hollister Laundromat before Yoon Ji’s death. Sheriff’s deputies found Yoon Ji’s remains off Salinas Grade Road between San Benito and Monterey counties, according to authorities. The two suspects were arrested immediately after the remains were found.

Yoon Ji’s daughter and sister, who live in Los Angeles, reported the woman missing on Dec. 2, 2017. The daughter told sheriff’s authorities that she had not heard from her mother for about two weeks, according to police.

Jung Choi was allegedly Sang Ji’s mistress at the time of Yoon Ji’s murder, according to court files.

December 2014 fatal shooting

A Hollister man accused of killing Raul De La Rosa in 2014 will next appear at San Benito County Courthouse Aug. 29 for a hearing to schedule his preliminary examination, according to court files.

Christopher Larios

Christopher Larios, 32, is charged with a felony count of murder, in addition to an enhancement for the use of a firearm. The charges relate to the Dec. 23, 2014 death of De La Rosa at a residence on the 2000 block of Scenic Circle in southeast Hollister.

Police arrested Larios when he entered the Hollister police station April 21, 2019, and told officers he wanted to make a statement about the 2014 murder. Based on that interview, officers arrested Larios on suspicion of killing De La Rosa.

He remains in the county jail in lieu of $1.05 million bail.

Officers have not released any details about Larios’ motive or events leading up to the 2014 murder.

Michael Moore
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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