Driver in Walla Walla gang shooting heads to prison

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WALLA WALLA — A second defendant who pleaded guilty last month to participating in what police say was a gang-related drive-by shooting at Howard and Tietan streets has been sentenced in Walla Walla County Superior Court.

Francisco Casillas Jr. was led from a County Courthouse courtroom Thursday to start serving a prison term of a year-and-a-half, the midpoint of the 15- to 21-month standard range he faced.

Casillas, 32, was driving the Chevrolet pickup in July 2011 when shots were fired at rival gang members.

As required by law, Judge John Lohrmann gave Casillas credit for the 99 days he served in the County Jail from the time he was arrested in October 2011 until his release on bail in January 2012.

Lohrmann also placed Casillas on 18 months of community custody, a form of probation, when he’s released from prison. He also was ordered to refrain from further gang activity and to pay at least $1,346 in court costs and fees.

Casillas’ attorney, George Trejo Jr. of Yakima, asked Lohrmann to consider a 15-month sentence, the low end of the range. Trejo said his client is a hard-working, church-going family man with children, has no adult criminal history and hasn’t been in trouble since his release from jail.

“He found himself at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Trejo said.

He explained that Casillas had just returned from a family trip to Disneyland the day the shooting occurred. People showed up, asked him for a ride and jumped in the back of his pickup. As he was driving, rocks were thrown and the next thing Casillas knew, someone fired a gun, Trejo said.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joe Golden, who recommended the midrange sentence, said there obviously was more to it than what Trejo described, and Lohrmann agreed.

Casillas then insisted it was the truth, said he didn’t know half the people in his vehicle, an altercation broke out and “it just went south from there.”

But Lohrmann told him, “There were opportunities to take a left turn out of it,” adding, “This community needs to know we don’t put up with gangs.”

Casillas pleaded guilty April 19 to a reduced charge of second-degree assault while armed with a deadly weapon.

Co-defendant Daniel Ramos-Lara spent more than 18 months in jail before pleading guilty April 22 to complicity to drive-by shooting. Lohrmann later sentenced him to time served. He then was to be handed over to immigration officials and likely will be deported.

Casillas was born in Walla Walla.

Officials said Ramos-Lara and other gang members were in the extended-cab pickup driven by Casillas that was chasing rival gang members in a Chevy Tahoe SUV about 5:40 p.m. July 28, 2011.

As the vehicles were heading north on Howard at Tietan, Ramos-Lara — a front-seat passenger in the pickup — fired shots from a .22-caliber revolver at the fleeing Tahoe in a northeasterly direction, according to authorities.

A witness told police the Tahoe then headed east on Tietan and the pickup fled either west on Tietan or continued north on Howard.

A bullet penetrated a window of a residence.

Apparently no one was injured.

Ramos-Lara, 27, initially was charged with four counts of first-degree assault and one count each of drive-by shooting and riot. Casillas faced charges of complicity to the crimes. Had they been convicted of those charges, each would have faced decades in prison.

Golden said in an interview he agreed to reduce the cases because of defenses that would have been raised had they gone to trial, in addition to anticipated problems with uncooperative witnesses that may have resulted in acquittals.

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

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