Murder sentence of driver in 2010 drive-by shooting of Azahel Cruz upheld

Peninsula Premier Admin

SALINAS — The Monterey County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday that Edmundo Pulido will not be resentenced for his role in the March 2010 murder of 6-year-old Azahel Cruz.

Pulido, 30, pleaded guilty in 2014 to two counts of second-degree murder. He also admitted firearms and gang enhancements and received a sentence of 35 years to life. The DA’s Office says Pulido also shot and killed 18-year-old Efren Vargas in December 2010.

SB 1437, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed and was enacted in 2019, says prosecutors cannot file murder charges against people who didn’t play a major role in a homicide. Previously, a person who participated in a felony such as burglary or robbery could be convicted of murder if a cohort, acting on their own, decided to kill someone.

The law can be applied retroactively and Pulido filed a petition for resentencing in August 2019.

On March 23, 2010, Salinas police officers were dispatched to Laurel Pocket Park to investigate a drive-by shooting. According to the DA’s Office, witness statements and surveillance video established that the shooting was a drive-by and that the shooter was the front-seat passenger in a gold-colored Honda. One of the fired bullets went through a park fence into a nearby house and struck Azahel Cruz in the head as he stood next to his mother in the kitchen. He died from the gunshot wound.

An extensive investigation by the Salinas Police Department found that the driver was Pulido, who the DA’s Office says is a Salinas Acosta Plaza Norteno gang member, and the shooter was Bernardo Camacho. The DA’s Office said the target of the shooting was a group of Sureno gang members who were in the park at the time.

As the city dealt with record-high murder rates at the time, the killing of Azahel hit a rare, painful chord in Salinas. Police officers became tearful when talking about the child slain in the safety of his home, marches were organized in his name and Pocket Park was renamed in his honor.

The shooting “not only affected (Azahel’s) mother and (the shooter’s) mother, but … all of Salinas,” Debbie Aguilar, an activist who has been advocating for peace in the streets ever since her son was murdered many years ago, told The Herald in 2016 after Camacho was sentenced. “I’m angry. It angered the community what they did to Azahel and we’ll never forget.”

Gang murders are often difficult to solve as witnesses refuse to cooperate or testify during legal proceedings. The killing of Aguilar’s son, Stephen, has never been solved.

Maria Alcantar, Azahel’s mom, and her family moved to another part of town, but she told The Herald in 2016 that her family was still suffering the effects of the tragedy.

“The sentence is not going to bring back my son. We know (Camacho) is inside, and that he won’t cause any damage on the outside, but there are lots of mothers who’ve lost their children” and those cases have not been solved, Alcantar said in Spanish in 2016. “May God bless them and may He not forget us.”

According to the DA’s Office, Pulido testified on his own behalf on June 4 and indicated that he and Camacho were driving to get beer and happened by the Pocket Park on Laurel Drive on the night Azahel was killed. Pulido testified that he knew the park was rival territory and knew that there were rival gang members in the park as they drove by. The park had playground equipment between the street and the area where the Sureno gang members were standing. At the time of the shooting, innocent bystanders were also present in the park. Pulido testified that he and Camacho agreed to shoot into the air, over the rivals’ heads in an act that he called “turfing.” Pulido testified that he made a U-turn and drove by the park to allow Camacho to shoot. Camacho leaned out and shot into the park.

Pulido admitted that he would have been praised for killing a Sureno and that drive-by shootings are dangerous because innocent people could be killed. He stated “bullets have no names.”

Judge Rafael Vasquez ruled on Sept. 3 that Pulido acted with the intent to kill a rival Sureno gang member when he agreed to and did aid and abet Camacho in shooting into the park on the day they killed Azahel. Vazquez denied Pulido’s petition to be resentenced and his initial sentence of 35 years to life remains intact.

The victim’s parents were in the courtroom for the testimony and the ruling.

Contributed by local news sources

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