3 convicted of murder in the murder of Frank Navarro
SAN JOSE – A jury convicted three men of murder in the 2017 death of a beloved Little League coach who was fatally stabbed for a confiscated driver’s license while working security at a bar downtown.
After a trial that lasted more than two months, jurors on Friday found Santos Trevino, 26, Joseph Esquivel, 32, and Aaron Vallejo, 29, guilty of second degree murder in the murder of 35. One year old Frank Navarro. The three were also found guilty of assaulting Navarro with a deadly weapon and assaulting another security guard Navarro was assisting.
Jury exonerated a fourth defendant, Andrew Cervantes, 25, who has been described by defense lawyers as a “peacemaker” who did not participate in the February 26, 2017 confrontation that ended with Navarro fatally injured.
During the trial which began in July for the four defendants, testimony and argument focused on whether the response from Trevino, Joseph Esquivel, Cervantes and Vallejo involved the planning necessary to make them collectively guilty of murder. even though Trevino was the only person who definitely stabbed Navarro. Another major source of argument revolved around whether the quartet’s gang affiliations inherently made them a gang crime with more serious charges.
The jury flatly rejected the gang improvements and stand-alone gang charges, which defense attorneys characterized as overcharging cases based on the identity of the defendants.
Jurors also failed to agree on a verdict on a charge the group allegedly assaulted a third security guard, and a charge of attempted robbery alleging they attempted to forcefully recapture. an identity document confiscated from the security guards.
The verdict concluded a more than four-year process – the bar where it happened has since closed – which has seen two of the six people charged with Navarro’s murder enter into plea deals and Navarro’s family and friends waiting for someone to be held to account. Navarro’s death sent shockwaves through East San Jose, an Overfelt High School alumnus and well-known coach who, at the time of his death, was president of the Eastridge Little League, where he was coached in his youth by his grandfather.
There is a general consensus that on the night of February 26, 2017, Joseph Esquivel, Santos Trevino’s brother, and his sister Percella Esquivel attempted to enter Tres Gringos Cabo Cantina on Second Street. Joseph Esquivel used make-up to cover up a tattoo on his face that allegedly violated bar entry policy and presented Trevino’s driver’s license to a security guard at the gate.
The security guard confiscated the permit after deciding it was fraudulently used and refused to return it to the Esquivel. The pair called their friends and eventually a red Buick pulled up with four men – Trevino, Cervantes, Ruiz and Vallejo – got out, although Ruiz returned to the car shortly after.
Trevino and the others approached the security guard who now had his ID card, threatened him and even tried to reach into the guard’s pockets, causing a physical struggle. Navarro, the security official, came and tried to intervene, and at one point Trevino allegedly pulled out a pocket knife and stabbed Navarro in the body and neck.
With Navarro fatally injured, Vallejo got back into the car and fled with Ruiz, while the others fled. Vallejo and Ruiz were arrested that night a few miles outside of West San Jose. A few days later, Trevino was located in Rocklin, outside of Sacramento, and in the days that followed, the Esquivels and Cervantes were arrested.
The original six defendants were indicted in January 2018. Percella Esquivel entered into a plea deal that dropped his murder charge and resulted in his conviction for attempted robbery and three counts of assault with a lethal weapon. Ruiz has pleaded for attempted robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, involvement in a street gang and escaping a police officer.
Deputy District Attorney Lance Daugherty claimed the evidence suggested a planned coordinated attack, while defense attorneys Jeff Dunn, Mondonna Mostofi and Dan Mayfield – representing Joseph Esquivel, Vallejo and Cervantes, respectively – argued that the sole intention of the group to get to the bar was to return Trevino’s ID card.
Defense attorneys described Cervantes trying to calm tensions and that Joseph Esquivel hitting one of the security guards was assault, but fell far short of any intent to kill. Mostofi claimed that Vallejo was misidentified by witnesses and was not involved in the attack. She also warned jurors against using their gang ties to justify holding them all responsible for Trevino’s fatal act, which he allegedly admitted to his wife after their escape from San José.
This is a developing story. Check back later for updates.