Murder suspect in 2020 shootout near Modesto school released; lack of evidence cited

·3 min read

A man charged with murder in a 2020 shootout near a Modesto elementary school was released from jail this week after a judge determined there wasn’t enough evidence against him to proceed to trial.

“The testimony at the preliminary hearing that was presented by witnesses present at the scene was not helpful,” Judge Dawna Reeves said in court Tuesday. “They either refused to testify or had an untrustworthy lack of memory of the events.”

The shooting occurred Nov. 13, 2020, at a park on Celeste Drive next to Coleman Brown Elementary School. Cedrick Miller, 19, died after being found in the driver’s seat of a vehicle that had crashed into a house on Celeste. Two others were injured.

Two months later, Modesto police arrested Modesto resident Treviano Owens in connection with the shooting. Owens was charged with murder, robbery and shooting at an occupied vehicle.

Deputy District Attorney Vita Palazuelos said evidence was presented over several days of testimony at the preliminary hearing that Owens and Miller conspired to rob two men of a firearm.

Palazuelos said the robbery victims were Ricky Marquez and Isaiah Martinez and that during the course of the alleged robbery, Martinez, Owens and Miller discharged their firearms.

The “People’s belief is that Mr. Owens shot his own finger while shooting at Mr. Marquez. Mr. Miller was shot by Mr. Martinez,” Palazuelos said told The Bee.

Owens was charged with Miller’s death under the provocative act theory, in which a person commits a felony act that provokes another into killing someone else. In this case, the felony was robbery and the provocative act was the shooting, Palazuelos said.

No charges have been filed against Marquez or Martinez in connection with the shooting or the illegal sale of a firearm.

“Mr. Marquez told the police at one point he felt that Mr. Owens was trying to shoot at him. He changed his story on the stand by his feigned memory.” Palazuelos said.

The judge in her ruling said, “The evidence at the preliminary hearing does not establish who fired the fatal shot, nor what the provocative act was, or that Mr. Owens knew there was going to be a robbery … and intentionally participated in it.”

The preliminary hearing concluded Jan. 7 and Reeves took more than a week to make her ruling, during which time she said she reviewed her notes and hearing transcripts and watched video evidence of the shooting more than 50 times.

Reeves said it was unclear from the video whether Owens had a gun, and text message evidence suggests Owen was armed but didn’t fire back. “It’s probably not true, but the court has no other information to suggest otherwise,” she said.

Reeves also said text messages from Owens that were presented as evidence didn’t establish he was a participant in robberies, knew Miller was a participant in robberies or that they planned to rob Marquez and Martinez on the day of the shooting. She also called testimony from Marquez “not helpful,” saying he was “particularly lax in his memory.”

Modesto police homicide detectives did a “great job” with the investigation, Palazuelos said, but “sometimes the witnesses’ testimony at preliminary examination does not line up with what was originally stated.”

Reeves made the ruling Tuesday, discharging Owens on all charges. He was released from jail later that day.

Owens’ attorney, Alonzo Gradford, confirmed the judge’s decision but otherwise declined to comment on the case.

Palazuelos said there is no plan to pursue refiling changes against Owens at this point but said it is an option should new evidence come to light.

Anyone with information about the case can call the Modesto Police Department at 209-572-9500.

Cedrick Miller, 19, died after being found in the driver’s seat of a car that had crashed into a house on Celeste Drive in Modesto on Nov. 13, 2020.
Cedrick Miller, 19, died after being found in the driver’s seat of a car that had crashed into a house on Celeste Drive in Modesto on Nov. 13, 2020.
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