Teen gang member accused in killing pleads not guilty - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Teen gang member accused in retaliation killing pleads not guilty to murder charges

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A documented gang member who was 15 when he allegedly shot and killed a Skyline resident in what authorities characterized as a retaliation killing pleaded not guilty Monday to murder and gun charges.

Rafael Meraz, now 18, was charged directly in adult court and faces 50 years to life in prison if convicted in the death of 32-year-old Vidal Balderas Jr., said Deputy District Attorney Christopher Lawson.

Judge David Szumowski ordered Meraz held on $1 million bail.

Lawson told the judge that Meraz brandished a firearm in front of the victim's younger brother and the brother's friend about 2 p.m. on Oct, 21, 2007.

More than four hours later, the defendant returned to the victim's home on Coolwater Drive, and was beaten up by the victim and had his 9 mm gun taken away, Lawson told the judge.

Meraz was taken to the hospital and released to his mother that night, the prosecutor said.

Ten days later, on Halloween night 2007, three men -- two wearing masks and one wearing a black bandana -- approached the victim as he returned from taking his daughter trick-or-treating, Lawson said.

The defendant -- said to be wearing the black bandana -- allegedly yelled out, "What's up! What's up now!" according to the prosecutor.

A struggle ensued over a gun, and Meraz allegedly shot Balderas six times, sending him stumbling to the ground. He died at the scene.

Meraz told police he never left his home that night, but his two brothers said he went out around the time of the 7:45 p.m. shooting and returned home a short time later to take a shower, according to the prosecutor.

Lawson said Meraz was familiar with firearms, alleging that the defendant shot himself with a .22 caliber gun when he was 13.

When Meraz was arrested last Thursday, he dumped a loaded .38 caliber weapon as he tried to flee, the prosecutor alleged.

In addition to murder, Meraz is charged with possession of an unregistered firearm, being a person prohibited from carrying a firearm and being a person prohibited from carrying ammunition.

A bail review/status conference was set for April 20. No other arrests have been made in the case, Lawson said.

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