Bail set at $1 million in Walla Walla gang killing

Two men connected to the shooting were in court today.

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Benito Gomez leaving the Walla Walla County Superior Courtroom after his first appearance in court for the killing of Julio Cesar Martinez. 5/23/11

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Michael I. Mercado enters the Walla Walla County Superior Courtroom Monday morning. Mercado is connected with last weeks murder. 5/23/11

WALLA WALLA -- Bail was set this morning at $1 million for a Walla Walla man believed to have shot and killed a rival gang member in a turf-related confrontation here last week.

At today's first Superior Court appearance for Benito Gomez, 18, Judge Donald W. Schacht also advised him of his constitutional rights and appointed local attorney Jerry Makus to represent him.

Gomez was arrested early Saturday morning on investigation of first-degree murder and six counts of first-degree assault. Formal charges were expected to be filed later today.

A second suspect, Michael I. Mercado, 20, of College Place, also appeared in court this morning.

He was arrested late Saturday afternoon, suspected of being at the scene of the fatal shooting and throwing rocks. His bail was set today at $250,000 after Schacht told him he was being held on investigation of one count of riot and three counts of second-degree assault.

Officials say Gomez shot rival gang member Julio Cesar Martinez, 20, twice in the head about 6 p.m. Tuesday in an alley in the 300 block of Myrtle Street. He died later at Providence St. Mary Medical Center.

Further details of the killing are included in a police report that was presented in court this morning.

According to the report based on witness statements, Gomez, Mercado and two other gang members -- who considered the area within their gang's territorial boundary -- were upset rival gang members had moved in.

Gomez, Mercado and the other two allegedly congregated in the area of Sprague Avenue and Myrtle, then walked to the alley connecting West Chestnut Street to the 300 block of Myrtle.

Gomez and his fellow members covered their faces with bandanas and walked north in the alley to approach rivals Martinez, Miguel Saucedo and Joseph Dejesus -- as well as two other people not identified as gang members -- who were standing there, the police report says.

Mercado allegedly armed himself with rocks and threw them at Martinez, Saucedo and Dejesus, who stood their ground to meet the advancing rivals.

Then, after closing in, Gomez reportedly drew a gun and shot at the group, striking Martinez. "Benito Gomez continued to advance, firing the handgun" as remaining victims fled to a nearby apartment, according to the police report.

As they ran, Gomez allegedly continued firing and struck the building. He then reportedly fled west down Myrtle Street and into a yard on Sprague.

He was arrested after police conducted more than two dozen interviews to piece together what allegedly happened. Family members of Gomez attended this morning's court session.

More arrests are expected, police spokesman Tim Bennett said today.

Officials have beefed up patrols in areas where gang members are known to frequent, but no major reports of retaliation have been reported, Bennett said.

Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.

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