Police Shooter Gets 29 Years

Shooting.jpgJudge Mock sentenced Ronnie Barahona to 29 years in prison after he was convicted of a single charge of assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer, with an enhancement for using a firearm.

Back in May, a Yolo County jury deadlocked on whether Ronnie Barahona, when he shot four times at police officers, was attempting to kill them as Prosecutor Clinton Parish claimed, or was merely attempting to get away. This followed a failed robbery attempt on a Sacramento ATM that culminated in a high speed pursuit and a subsequent foot chase.

During the trial, covered in May by Yolo Judicial Watch, Defense Attorney Dan Nicholson argued that this had always been a case of gross and negligent discharge of a firearm, not of attempted murder.

In a dramatic closing argument, Deputy DA Parish told the jury to imagine it is Thanksgiving dinner and the story of this trial is being told to family.  He relayed a story at breakneck pace that could have been out of the Fast and Furious.  The story began with a man taking a blowtorch to a Sacramento ATM, then culminated in a high speed pursuit, tearing through the streets of Sacramento and then West Sacramento.  It ended with a car hitting a fire hydrant and a foot chase, and with the man opening fire on the police.

Mr. Parish was dramatic in his presentation, delivering it rapidly, and he closed his story talking about how the man shot at the police, “bang,” and shot again “bang, bang,” and finally the fourth shot, “bang.”

Mr. Parish said, and your family turns to you and asks, what happened?  “Nothing, he was shooting at the ground, we walked him.”  He turned to the jury and said that this man is guilty of attempting to murder two police officers, please convict him.

Despite this, the jury could not reach a verdict on the attempted murder, and only reached a verdict on one assault charge with an enhancement for using a firearm.

During the trial, they added four charges of negligent discharge.  Defense Attorney Nicholson had requested those be added as a lesser included, but instead they were separate stand-alone charges, that ultimately complicated the sentencing scheme.

Judge Mock refused to sentence Mr. Barahona unless the DA made a decision on what to do with the first two counts of attempted murder.  He ultimately decided not to pursue them, and Judge Mock dismissed them.

Mr. Parish argued that each of the four shots constituted a separate act, and while the court had the discretion to run those sentences concurrently under the same general crime, he argued otherwise.

Mr. Parish also disputed probation’s point of a mitigating factor being the defendant acknowledging the act. He argued that Mr. Barahona fought the assault charge in court, therefore he was not accepting responsibility for his act, and his helping the police to find the gun that he had discarded following the foot pursuit was minimal.

Mr. Nicholson argued that he should be sentenced to a 25-year determinate sentence, and he argued that other charges be run concurrently with the assault charge and the enhancement.

He reiterated that he always saw this as a case of negligent discharge.  He argued that Mr. Barahona, who had a meth addiction, had almost no previous criminal history before this attempt to steal an ATM with a blowtorch, with a high speed chase and a foot pursuit ending with shots fired at police officers.

He called these a bad series of decisions, but argued that his assistance in finding the weapon, as well as the fact that he apparently fired the shots into the ground, bear for leniency.  He argued no one was injured in this altercation.

He pointed out that every crime he committed was only a single crime, where he was attempting to get away from police.

Judge Mock agreed with this, in part.  But he argued that he had jeopardized the safety not only of the police officers, but also of everyone who might have been out on the street during these early morning hours.

He did acknowledge mitigation, in the fact that the defendant had a minimal criminal history and that he did voluntarily help police find the weapon.  However, at the same time, he said that the defendant did attempt to minimize the crime.

While Mr. Nicholson had argued for the 25-year minimum, the sentence did not turn out all that differently, at 29 years.

Judge Mock sentenced him to a 7-year middle term and ran the mandatory enhancement for personal discharge of a firearm during the commission of a felony at 20 years, for a 27-year principal term.

He did run a number of the counts concurrently.  The most interesting was his disposition for the negligent discharge charges.

Judge Mock determined that charge 13 was the same act as the assault charge he was convicted of, and therefore he stayed that sentence.  For charges 10 through 12, he argued that, while there was a short period of time, the four shots could be considered four distinct acts of violence, despite the fact that they occurred in about 30 seconds.

However, he also added that shots two and three were “nanoseconds” apart, therefore, he determined that count 10 and count 11 constituted separate acts, count 12 was concurrent with count 11, and count 13 was stayed.  That added an additional 8 months each to his sentence. His conviction on count 5, which was the auto theft he had pled to prior to the trial, was run consecutively and gave him another 8 months. 

Mr. Barahona also gets 623 days credit.

According to the DA”s account, on December 30, 2009, Mr. Barahona and his crime partner used a blowtorch in an attempt to steal an ATM machine.  After getting spooked by a security guard, Mr. Barahona left the scene but was soon spotted by a Sacramento police officer.  After another Sacramento police officer arrived, Mr. Barahona drove away in a stolen truck and led the officers on a high speed chase through downtown Sacramento.

Mr. Barahona then sped onto the freeway, heading to West Sacramento.  While taking a corner at high speed, Mr. Barahona lost control of the stolen truck and crashed, hitting a fire hydrant and several parked cars.

Mr. Barahona fled on foot from the truck with his .45 caliber gun.  During the foot chase, Mr. Barahona fired four shots at the ground in the direction of the officers.  Nobody was injured.  After a high-intensity search of the area, a Sacramento K-9 officer and his dog located Mr. Barahona hiding in the rafters of a nearby house.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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15 Comments

  1. Tecnichick

    I wonder why this had to go to trial? It seems that they had so much evidence on this guy and could have charged him with the obvious and made a deal and saved the cost but the DA’s over reaching typical antics get in the way! Waste of time and money! – In the end, he still got what could have been offered!

  2. Mr.Toad

    20 years for firing a gun. If there is anything excessive it is this but he did fire it with the cops after him. Hard to sympathize with a crime spree that seems right out of a television fantasy episode some cop show.

  3. David M. Greenwald

    The dispute over which the case was tried was whether shooter was trying to get away and scare the police or whether he was trying to shoot at and kill the police. The jury to some extent split the baby here and decided that he shot at but did not intend to kill one of the officers. I tend to agree a 20 year enhancement for using a gun is excessive, but if he did shoot at a cop, it’s hard to argue with the sentence.

  4. roger bockrath

    I am constantly amazed by how little information news reporters have about what they write. A newspaper is about as voluminous as a medium sized book and must be published, come hell or high water, every 24 hours. So I guess there is some excuse for printing factually incorrect articles.

    For example, reporters regularly refer to loading bullets into a fire arm. The bullet is the projectile which shoots out of the gun. What is loaded into the fire arm is a cartridge, made up of a bullet which is held in a case which is filled with propellant and actuated by a primer. Given society’s preoccupation with gun crimes you might expect that media representatives would learn the difference between a bullet and a cartridge so that the could communicate accurately.

    In this particular case some reporter said that the perp. used a blow torch to attempt removal of an ATM . A blow torch is used to blow paint of buildings before repainting. It produces a flame by burning gasoline and is incapable of melting steel. No doubt the would be robber was attempting to remove the ATM by cutting it from the building using an oxy-acetylene torch.

    My experience,during the time I worked in news reporting, is that some reporter who knows little about what he is reporting starts the ball rolling, and then the mis-information gets repeated over and over until the public ends up believing that a blow torch can be used to cut steel.

    But, then again, maybe the guy was really so stupid that he tried to cut steel with a blow torch.

  5. E Roberts Musser

    Let’s see:
    1) Defendant intended to commit a robbery and brought a gun with him.
    2) Defendant did attempt robbery, but was interrupted.
    3) Defendant led police on high speed chase, endangering everyone on the road, including the officers chasing him.
    4) Defendant pulled out his gun and used it to keep from getting caught, not caring one whit if his shots would carom off the ground and hit someone.

    I would say the defendant got exactly what he deserved and belongs in prison for a long time…

  6. jimt

    Yes, the sentencing length sounds about right to me.
    Not a good idea to point a gun and fire in the general direction of a police officer; he was lucky not to be shot down in return, and lucky the attempted murder charges were dropped (although I can believe his intent was to intimidate the officers and not to kill them).

    Was he also charged with reckless endangerment or some such charge for the high-speed chase? Isn’t this also a felony?

  7. David M. Greenwald

    Elaine:

    “4) Defendant pulled out his gun and used it to keep from getting caught, not caring one whit if his shots would carom off the ground and hit someone.”

    You’ve just described negligent use of a firearm (almost to a tee). That is the four counts that was added on. What you did not describe was the 245A charge which he was convicted of, assault on a police officer which contains within it an intent to harm a police office.

  8. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]You’ve just described negligent use of a firearm (almost to a tee). That is the four counts that was added on. What you did not describe was the 245A charge which he was convicted of, assault on a police officer which contains within it an intent to harm a police office.[/quote]

    I could very easily argue reckless disregard for human life ( the police officer), which would provide the necessary malice element required for attempted murder.

  9. David M. Greenwald

    Attempted murder is a specific intent charge, you have to prove that he intended to kill the officer. The jury split on that.

    The more i look at this case, the more I see that the jury split the baby here. It was clear one of the officers was in his car and was not being assaulted, hence they acquitted. On the rest, the prosecution tried to argue for attempted murder, the defense argued for negligent discharge, the jury met in the middle and convicted on assault.

  10. E Roberts Musser

    Right you are about attempted murder and specific intent in CA. However, I think it is possible for a jury to have found the necessary intent if they did not believe the defendant’s claim that he only shot at the ground. I agree with one commenter who noted the police had every right to shoot and kill the defendant when he pointed that gun. The defendant is darn lucky he is not dead as a doornail. I have no problem with the prosecution trying for attempted murder in this situation. The defendant is lucky he had a good defense lawyer…

    From shouselow.com:

    [quote]That you intended to kill

    This is where the prosecution in a California attempted murder case typically has the most difficulty.

    It’s not enough that you intend to severely injure or maim another person…you must actually intend to kill. In cases where the injuries are to the upper half of the body, the prosecution will argue that that fact is indicative of an intent to kill, since that’s where the body’s vital organs are.

    Conversely, if the injuries were mainly inflicted on the lower half of the body, your criminal defense lawyer will argue that that fact suggests that you didn’t intend to kill, but instead only intended to cause injury.

    But beyond that, it’s the overall circumstances that dictate whether there is proof that you intended to kill6 …especially in the absence of injury.

    Example: While being chased by the police, Charles stopped about 15-20 feet from the cops, pointed his gun at them and fired. Even though he missed…and his gun jammed before he could fire another shot…the jury still convicted him of attempted murder.7[/quote]

  11. David M. Greenwald

    This is from the Calcrim jury instructions on attempted murder:

    [quote]Specific Intent Required
    “[T]he crime of attempted murder requires a specific intent to kill . . . .”

    (People v. Guerra (1985) 40 Cal.3d 377, 386 [220 Cal.Rptr. 374, 708 P.2d 1252].)

    In instructing upon the crime of attempt to commit murder, there should never be any reference whatsoever to implied malice. Nothing less than a specific intent to kill must be found before a defendant can be convicted of attempt to commit murder, and the instructions in this respect should be lean and unequivocal in explaining to the jury that only a specific intent to kill will do.

    (People v. Santascoy (1984) 153 Cal.App.3d 909, 918 [200 Cal.Rptr. 709].)[/quote]

  12. E Roberts Musser

    To dmg: Sorry, but in my book if the defendant has a gun and points it in the direction of the police officer, even if towards the ground (that’s his story), I think it is quite possible a juror could infer the intent to commit murder…

  13. David M. Greenwald

    You would be on the side of the jury the deadlocked in favor of the conviction for attempted murder. I don’t know how you can infer intent from a ground shot. To me you are arguing for implied intent which is forbidden by the courts.

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