The head of a criminal street gang in Soledad was sentenced Friday to 42 years in prison in the murders of two men in 2008 and 2010, according to the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office. Superior Court Judge Russell Scott imposed the prison term on 25-year-old Armando Garza Canchola, who pleaded guilty to two counts of voluntary manslaughter with the use of a gun and a gang enhancement, Deputy District Attorney Steve Somers reported in a statement.
The 42-year sentence was the maximum penalty Scott could have ordered based the charges against Canchola, Somers said. According to prosecutors, on July 2, 2008, Canchola, then 19, fired multiple shots at close range that killed 28-year-old Cesar Vasquez while the victim sat in the passenger side of a car on a street in Soledad.
The driver of the car was able to identify Canchola, who was arrested and charged, but the district attorney’s office had to dismiss the case when eyewitnesses moved to Mexico, according to Somers. On Oct. 6, 2010, Canchola fired the shots that killed Victor Martinez Soledad, 25, who was a passenger in a van at a street corner in Soledad, according to Somers. Canchola’s gunshots struck Soledad in the head and upper spine, he said.
Investigators believed that Canchola killed both men because they had quit the street gang he operated in Soledad. Soledad police compiled evidence linking him to both homicides, which led the district attorney’s office to file two murder charges. He was tried for the murders in Superior Court in May and June of 2013 but the jury deadlocked on a verdict after prosecutors were unable to produce eyewitnesses to either of them.
Canchola ultimately pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter with a gun and the gang enhancement. The felony convictions amount to two strikes under California law and Canchola will have to serve at least 85 percent of his 42-year sentence, Somers said. Meanwhile, he also faces felony charges for taking part in an attack by a group of inmates against a sheriff’s deputy at the Monterey County Jail, according to Somers. Canchola could face a term of 60 years to life if convicted of charges in the attack, Somers said.
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