Man connected to Planada double homicide sentenced to 7 years in prison

MERCED COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Juan Ceja-Prado was seen mouthing words to his family while waiting to be sentenced.

Merced County Sheriff's detectives arrested the 26-year-old in June of 2018 for a shooting that killed 22-year-old Diego Gallardo and 27-year-old Pedro Lua.

The two men died after a fight ended in gunfire outside Ramon's Tacos in Planada on February 1, 2018.

However, prosecutors dropped the murder charge against Ceja-Prado in December of 2019, and on the same day he pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and violating his probation.

Gallardo's family members held a large photo of him and shared victim impact statements during Friday's sentencing.

They still blame Ceja-Prado for the death of their loved one, who authorities said was an innocent bystander.

Maria Carmen Gallardo said, "My son is no longer with me, and he was the cause of my son not being here with me."

Gallardo was killed one day before a job interview with Tesla and just months before his brother's wedding.

Relatives say he was kind and outgoing.

Meanwhile, Lua is being remembered as a doting dad to his young son. He was also the defendant's cousin.

Pilar Lua says her son was a good person. She said, "He had a lot of friends who loved him and will continue to love him."

Defense attorney Nicholas Reyes acknowledged the tragedy of losing two lives but said his client was only carrying a gun in self-defense.

He described Ceja-Prado as a gang dropout who was also shot twice that night.

Ryes said, "It was an unfortunate, tragic accident. He was ambushed. The true shooters are out there. The government knows who they are."

Reyes told the judge his client is remorseful for illegally possessing a gun and wants to take responsibility by paying for Gallardo's funeral expenses.

The judge agreed to accept that offer but still sentenced Ceja-Prado to the maximum time of seven years and four months in prison.

Both victims' families feel that is not enough.

Maria Carmen Gallardo said, "Of course we would have liked him to receive more because of the charges of murder, but we know that God is the last judge."

The deputy district attorney did not want to comment on why the murder charge was dropped, and the sheriff's office says the case is still under investigation.
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