Suspected gang members arrested in Winton murder

WINTON, Calif.

Families in a Winton neighborhood were scared to show their faces on camera, but said they're feeling safer after the Merced County Sheriff's Office arrested nine suspected members as a result of a three-month murder investigation, spanning several counties.

"I'm very glad that something is being done because then it will put a lid on the kind of expansion of these ideas," one neighbor told Action News.

It was in the backyard of an apartment complex last December where deputies found the body of Francisco Pena -- a suspected gang member, who neighbors say was known for terrorizing families in the neighborhood.

"The victim, Francisco, was a member of this gang," said Merced County Sheriff's Det. Jeff Coburn. "It is our belief that due to internal struggles and a desire for power within the gang, Francisco was ultimately killed by members of the very gang in which he was a member."

So far, detectives have linked four of them to the murder, including a 17-year-old from Atwater. They believe he and 18-year-old Elias Vera, 21-year-old Fernando Luna, and 24-year-old Julian Luna lured Pena to the backyard and waited for him before opening fire.

"After the murder had occurred, several of the people that were involved in this moved out of the area," said Coburn.

With the help of U.S. Marshalls Service and police from Fremont and Redding, detectives were able to track down the suspects.

"During the course of this murder investigation, other subjects were arrested for a variety of charges," said Coburn.

Those charges include possession of illegal firearms, drugs and gang paraphernalia -- putting a dent in a criminal street gang operating in the town of Winton.

"That's a very good sign that they're doing something," the neighbor said.

The Merced County Sheriff's Office says it's now looking into whether any of the suspects or firearms are linked to other incidents in the area.

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