Three people, all under the age of 21, including one juvenile who already has spent more than 500 days in detention for previous crimes, were charged Tuesday in the drive-by shooting death of a 7-year-old Glendale girl that outraged the community.
Frank Benavidez, 20, and Gabriel Alvarez, 16, were each charged with aggravated murder and obstruction of justice in 3rd District Court for the shooting death of Maria Del Carmen Menchaca. Because of the aggravated charge, Benavidez could be eligible for the death penalty if convicted.
Alvarez was charged as an adult but is not eligible for the death penalty because of his age. He could get life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Benavidez was the driver and Alvarez the shooter on July 6 when a black SUV drove by Menchaca's house as she, two other children and an adult walked outside her house near 800 W. 1100 South.
The adult saw the dark SUV coming toward them and a person in the backseat, later identified as Alvarez, wearing a blue bandanna over his face and holding a firearm, court documents state.
The adult with the children yelled "run" and then heard a gunshot, according to court documents. Maria was struck in the chest and killed.
Mae Johnson, 16, who was also in the vehicle that day, was charged as an adult with first-degree felony murder and obstruction of justice. If convicted, she could face 20-years to life in prison.
A fourth juvenile who was arrested shortly after the incident was determined not to have participated in or encouraged the shooting and was released from custody last week, Miller said.
According to court records, Alvarez's juvenile criminal history, which became public after his charge in adult court, included misdemeanor arrests for alcohol possession, contempt, assault, home detention violation and destruction of property dating to 2004.
Alvarez was first placed on home detention, placed in juvenile detention and was assigned to a non-residential community placement center at various times all in 2004, according to court records. He was admitted to an observation and assessment facility in 2005 and again placed in detention in 2005. He has spent more than 500 days in juvenile detention, according to court records.
The shooting of Menchaca was the result of an ongoing dispute between rival gangs, according to investigators.
Earlier in the day prior to the shooting, Benavidez drove to Menchaca's house, got out and yelled, "I'm going to kill you and your family," according to court documents. Johnson also got out of the black SUV and yelled obscenities at one of the juveniles at the house, court documents stated.
After Alvarez fired the shot that killed Menchaca, his gun jammed, prosecutors said. Alvarez took three bullets out of the weapon and handed them to Johnson, who then gave them back to Alvarez so he could reload, according to court documents. The group then drove to a fellow gang member's house to hide the gun, court documents said.
The drive-by shooting was orchestrated by Benavidez, according to court documents.
Although Johnson was not the shooter, she was "all for it," according to court documents because she was "tired of being disrespected" and gave Alvarez the gun, which she had hidden in her house, according to court documents.
By handing the bullets back to Alvarez after his gun had jammed, fully knowing his intention was to reload for the purpose of firing, Johnson both "actively encouraged and participated" in the drive-by shooting, thus making her eligible for an adult murder charge, said Salt Lake District Attorney Lohra Miller.
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