A member of the Norteños criminal street gang plead guilty to attempted murder last week in a case prosecutors say involved an unpaid drug debt.
Merced County Deputy District Attorney Dave Sandhous said in addition to attempted murder, Jesse Soto, 20, of Los Banos, pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and illegal use of a firearm inflicting great bodily injury.
Soto agreed to serve 21 years in prison with the possibility of parole after 18.
Soto, a validated Norteño, shot a 26-year-old woman in the legs and back on July 5, 2011, at the intersection of Canal Farm and Miller lanes.
"Basically, Norteños are into selling drugs in Los Banos. We were going to present evidence at trial that this was an unpaid drug debt," Sandhous said.
He said the female victim did not owe the Norteños money, but someone she knew did.
Sandhous said not being convicted of gang offenses was a factor in Soto's decision to accept the plea bargain. Gang enhancements could be factored in when gang members are convicted of crimes, resulting in longer sentences.
Sandhous said the Los Banos Police Department's investigation of the case was a tremendous help in prosecutors obtaining the plea bargain.