A man and two teenagers who police say took part in a gang-related shooting that left a 7-year-old girl dead made an initial appearance Court today.
Third District Judge Joseph Fratto set a scheduling conference for each of the three for July 28th and provided court appointed attorneys for each. The defendants appeared in court via closed-circuit TV.
The three are:
• Frank Puga Benavidez, 20, who is charged with aggravated murder and obstruction of justice, both first-degree felonies. Since he was an adult when the shooting occurred, Benavidez is eligible for the death penalty if he is convicted of the murder charge.
• Gabriel Alejandro Alvarez, 16, who also is charged with aggravated murder and obstruction of justice, both first-degree felonies. Since he is not an adult, prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty if Alvarez is convicted. However, if he is found guilty, he could get a sentence of life in prison without parole.
• Mae Goodman Johnson, 16, who is charged with murder and obstruction of justice, both first-degree felonies. She could face a prison term of 20-years-to-life behind bars if convicted.
Police say the three were involved in a drive-by shooting in Glendale on July 6 that resulted in the death of Maria Del Carmen Menchaca, 7, who was playing in front of her house around 6:30 p.m. Police have said they do not believe the child was the intended target instead, she was killed due to a long-standing battle between rival gangs.
Despite their youth, Alvarez and Johnson have been charged as adults in state district court, although Johnson has no previous criminal history.
Alvarez, on the other hand, has a long record in juvenile court that became public once he was charged as an adult. Benavidez, who previously was deported, also has a lengthy history of violent crime.
Court documents say Benavidez had threatened an adult male relative of the decease girl, yelling, "I'm going to kill you and your family!"
Court documents say the man later was walking with other people, including children, when a black SUV driven by Benavidez drove up, Alvarez fired a gun, the weapon jammed and Alvarez pulled out three other shells and gave them to Johnson. She handed them back, he reloaded the gun and after the shooting was over, the three fled to the home of a fellow gang member to hide the gun.
Although the two males planned the drive-by shooting, Johnson was "all for it" because "she was tired of being disrespected," court documents state.Among other things, Johnson was charged as an adult because she gave the bullets back to Alvarez knowing that he intended to reload the weapon to shoot it and she also "actively encouraged and participated" in the drive-by shooting, according to Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller. All three are behind bars with $1 million cash-only bail.