Three of four gangmembers were sentenced Thursday for murdering three people, closing a chapter on one of the most complex criminal case San Mateo County prosecutors have ever seen.
Roberto Gabriel Bustos-Montes and Eric Valencia Vargas were sentenced to 60 years to life in prison while Emmanuel Imani Hyland was sentenced to 25 years to life after collectively pleading to killing three rivals and attempting or conspiring to murder three others. Raymond Louis Bradford previously received a sentence of 80 years to life, according to Steve Wagstaffe, San Mateo County district attorney.
Wagstaffe added they will not be eligible for parole before their minimum sentence and that Bustos-Montes and Hyland apologized to the victims’ families in court while Vargas remained silent.
The men were involved in the “Operation Sunny Day,” indictments which focused on 16 people with charges ranging from first degree murder and drug trafficking to robbery and conspiracy. Just as the trial against four East Palo Alto men was beginning, each decided to take a plea deal for crimes spanning September 2012 through December 2013. A total of 11 defendants have avoided trial by taking a plea, according to prosecutors.
Bradford, 31, was convicted of two first degree murders, attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder; Bustos-Montes, 27, pleaded to two first degree murder charges, and attempted murder; Vargas, 20, pleaded to murder, conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder, reckless driving and resisting a police officer with violence; and Hyland, 28, pleaded to two murders as part of a deal, according to prosecutors.
In 2015, Wagstaffe opted not to seek the death penalty against any of the Sunny Day defendants, however, the four men were facing life without parole.
The crimes reportedly began when the Da Vill and Sac Street gangs of East Palo Alto teamed up against the Taliban gang of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Between 2012 and 2013, the war allegedly included four murders in East Palo Alto and San Francisco, a highway shooting in Belmont, a robbery, witness dissuasion, drug trafficking, bribery, firearms possession and conspiracy.
The Sunny Day indictments came after an 18-month investigation and a two-month criminal grand jury that was eight times longer than any other ever conducted in San Mateo County.
Wagstaffe said the effort was worth it.
“Talking to law enforcement, the council and more importantly, citizens and pastors, this has changed the community,” he said, adding he heard crime and gunfire has gone down significantly because these men were taken off the streets.
There is still one outstanding murder trial expected to begin in July. In that case, Jerry Coneal and Miguel Angel Rivera Jr. are accused of murdering 21-year-old Christopher Baker in East Palo Alto Oct. 5, 2012, according to prosecutors.
The cases against Marvin Ware, Tyrone Love-Lopez, and Nina Mehrnoosh Cragg are ongoing as well. Other Sunny Day defendants who have approached the District Attorney’s Office and settled their case with plea deals include Ralph Vernon Fields Jr., Donte Demon Jordan, Roshawn Bickham, LaQuisha Walker, Leonard James Gaines, Rodney Levence Mitchell and Robert Wheller Jr. At the time of their 2014 grand jury indictments, all 16 defendants ranged in ages 19 to 28.