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Third person charged in murder resulting from argument over best Mexican state

February 24, 2011 |  8:41 am

A third person has been charged in the murder outside a Santa Ana restaurant of an innocent man trying to avoid a fight between two groups over which Mexican state was best, authorities said Thursday.

Maria Isabel Rocha, 28, of Santa Ana, was charged Wednesday with “one felony count of murder with sentencing enhancements for the vicarious discharge of a firearm causing death by a gang member and criminal street gang activity,” according to a statement by the Orange County District Attorney’s office.

Rocha’s 17-year-old brother, Ricardo Guerra Rocha, was charged Tuesday with the same counts as his sister, and with an additional count of street terrorism. That same day, Ivan Sanchez, 21, also a resident of Santa Ana, faces similar charges.

The Sanchez and Rocha siblings got into an argument Feb. 13 with another group of people at Mariscos La Ola restaurant in Santa Ana over which state in Mexico is better, prosecutors said. The three defendants left the restaurant and returned several minutes later to the parking lot. They were armed, authorities said.

Esteban Navarrete, 35, was leaving the eatery and getting into his car with his wife and a friend when he was approached by Sanchez and Ricardo Rocha, whom he did not know. Maria Rocha remained behind the wheel of the defendants’ car.

According to authorities, Navarrete, who has no ties to street gangs, tried to explain that his party was not involved in the earlier argument. But Sanchez is accused of shooting Navarrete once in the head.

Authorities said the defendant fired several other shots, but Navarrete’s wife and friend were not struck. The defendants fled the scene in their car, authorities said.

Sanchez was apprehended by Santa Ana police during a traffic stop as 20-year-old Manuel Toscano was trying to drive the defendant to Mexico, authorities said.

Toscano has been charged with one felony count of accessory after the fact and faces a maximum of three years in state prison if convicted, authorities said.

The Rocha siblings are both being held on $1 million bail. If convicted, they each face 50 years to life in state prison.

Sanchez is being held without bail and if convicted faces a minimum sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole, authorities said.


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-- Ann M. Simmons