Minimum term in crime wave, Taco Bell slaying
Against wishes of the family of murdered 31-year-old Jorge Carrasco, Mesa County District Judge Brian Flynn on Monday announced his sentence for a man in a 2011 crime wave by releasing a 24-page written ruling: 24 years in prison.
Lester Miranda-Davis, 20, of Clifton, could have been imprisoned anywhere from 24 to 48 years following guilty pleas to second-degree murder, menacing, second-degree burglary and robbery, relating to several crimes including the fatal shooting of Carrasco, a respected Grand Junction mixed-martial arts fighter gunned down as he was eating outside Taco Bell, 850 North Ave., on the night of July 16, 2011.
Carrasco’s family earlier this month asked the judge to issue Miranda-Davis’ sentence in court, affording them a chance to attend.
“We are disappointed the judge decided not to do that,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan Rubinstein said Monday.
Colorado’s Victims’ Rights Act suggests Flynn wasn’t obligated to impose his sentence in open court, Rubinstein added.
Flynn on Jan. 18 listened to three hours of argument during Miranda-Davis’ sentencing hearing before announcing he needed more time—potentially up to a month—in order to decide a proper sentence.
In his ruling on Monday, Flynn said he would have imposed a sentence lower than 24 years if it were possible under the plea agreement in the case. He said the 24-year minimum was the “only conscionable” option he had, noting Miranda-Davis scored as a low risk to re-offend.
“It is also of significant concern to me that, given the length of the minimum prison sentence available to me, Miranda-Davis will undoubtably be placed in a maximum security prison,” the judge wrote in his order. “His placement in such a facility could actually make him a more dangerous person and the community could therefore be placed at greater risk when Miranda-Davis is released at some date in the future.”
Miranda-Davis could potentially be paroled from prison within 14 or 15 years, Rubinstein said.
Miranda-Davis was among four men charged in a series of crimes which occurred over 14 hours on July 16: armed robberies of Teller Arms Liquor, 2353 Belford Ave., and Cash Advance America, 2502 U.S. Highway 6&50, and the burglary of a home in the 2600 block of Chestnut Drive, where authorities believe guns were stolen and later used in Carrasco’s murder.
The four suspects—all but Miranda-Davis have suspected ties to a northern California “Norteno” gang—included Christian Fuentes, 20, Jaime Cardenas, 21, and Fidel Silva, 25, all of East Palo Alto, Calif.
Cardenas and Silva are still wanted by authorities. Fuentes is jailed in Mesa County and his case is still pending.
In Miranda-Davis’ sentencing hearing on Jan. 18, attorneys minimized his involvement in the crimes.
Fuentes, Silva and Cardenas—on the run after their alleged involvement in a gang-fueled slaying in California—drove to New Mexico before arriving in Grand Junction on July 15, 2011. Fuentes and Miranda-Davis were old friends.
Miranda-Davis acknowledged giving the men rides in his mother’s car around midnight on July 16, 2011, but wasn’t present when authorities allege the other three committed an armed robbery at Cash Advance America that morning.
Authorities believe Miranda-Davis was at work when the three suspects committed a burglary at the Chestnut Court home. Miranda-Davis did, however, rent a U-Haul truck that was later used to remove property from the home.
Miranda-Davis “had no idea” the U-Haul was about to be used in a crime, Flynn said in his ruling.
The judge acknowledged he helped the other three men remove items, including a safe, from the home.
Miranda-Davis’ defense suggested he was “scared” of Fuentes, Silva and Cardenas.
He admitted using his mother’s vehicle during the robbery of Teller Arms Liquor. Miranda- Davis said he switched places and let Silva drive, while Miranda-Davis rode in the front passenger seat.
Later that night, Miranda-Davis was again behind the wheel of his mother’s car, where he stayed as Cardenas and Silva got out and fatally shot Carrasco, wounding two others at Taco Bell. Authorities believe Carrasco wasn’t the intended target. Witnesses said the gunmen had yelled “XIV mother *******” in a gang reference before shots rang out.
“As Silva and Cardenas jumped out of the car and Miranda-Davis could see that they were headed toward the Taco Bell, Miranda-Davis turned to Fuentes and asked, ‘Are they really going to shoot them?,’ ” Flynn’s ruling reads. “Fuentes smirked and responded by saying, ‘Listen. Who do you think you’re hanging with?’ “
Prosecutors pointed to text messages sent by Miranda-Davis to Fuentes on July 17.
“People are saying it was a black dude who shot Cesar ... ha, ha,” Miranda-Davis told Fuentes in a text.
A separate message from Miranda-Davis to Fuentes noted they “got the fat guy”—suggesting the wrong man was shot—while questioning their shooting ability.
“It sure doesn’t sound like someone who’s afraid of these guys,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Trish Mahre told Flynn on Jan. 18.