WALLA WALLA -- A Walla Walla man could spend the rest of his life in prison if he's convicted of murdering a rival gang member and shooting at others in a confrontation last week.
Benito Gomez, 18, was charged Monday afternoon in Superior Court with first-degree murder. He also faces six counts of first-degree assault.
Gomez is accused of the premeditated killing of Julio Cesar Martinez, 20, who was shot twice in the head about 6 p.m. May 17 in an alley in the 300 block of Myrtle Street.
Martinez died later at Providence St. Mary Medical Center.
Gomez was arrested early Saturday morning and is being held in the County Jail on $1 million bail. A police report filed in court Monday afternoon says he admits being a gang member and said he was in the general area during the time frame of the shooting, but denies being involved.
Police say the killing -- the first gang-related homicide in the city -- occurred when what apparently was anticipated to be a more-routine turf battle turned deadly.
Gomez and three fellow gang members, including Michael I. Mercado, allegedly gathered to fight rivals because some had moved into their area.
The four covered their faces with bandanas and approached the rivals -- Martinez, Miguel Saucedo and Joseph Dejesus -- in addition to two other people not identified as gang members who were in the alley, according to the police report.
Mercado allegedly started throwing rocks, then Gomez drew a handgun and fired several times, police said. Martinez was struck in the head by two bullets. Other victims fled, as did the suspects.
Police recovered four bullet casings at the scene, but the murder weapon hadn't been recovered as of this morning. Officials believe only one gun was fired.
The assault charges against Gomez include allegations he fired at Saucedo, Dejesus and other people in the immediate area.
Mercado, 20, of College Place, was arrested late Saturday afternoon on investigation of riot and three counts of second-degree assault. Formal charges against him hadn't been filed as of this morning.
Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle said today Mercado may not have known the encounter would turn deadly.
Officials believe they know the identities of the other two fellow gang members who also were at the scene to fight, but they haven't been arrested. Police are still sifting through and sorting out details to determine their culpability, Nagle said.
Further charges may be filed.
Terry McConn can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8319.