Suspect in Planada double homicide pleads not guilty

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- Juan Ceja Prado pleaded not guilty to murder just days after the 24-year-old was arrested for his alleged connection to a double homicide in Planada earlier this year.

"He's well known in the area. He's known to have participated and contributed in gang activities," Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said.

Sheriff Vern Warnke says Prado was the primary suspect in the February shooting that left both 22-year-old Diego Gallardo and 27-year-old Pedro Lua dead. He said the arrest came from a culmination of evidence found at the scene, and an influx of callers wanting to help.

"This is the is the first time in a long time that we've had this type of cooperation from our citizens in Planada. Our folks have helped us out tremendously," Warnke said.

Court documents show that when deputies arrived, they found Gallardo and Lua, along with Prado, who had also been shot.

Deputies said Prado claimed he and Lua were related and went to "Ramon's Tacos" for food. He told them that at least two other people then came to the spot and started a verbal altercation. Prado claimed that it soon turned into a fight, and then heard shots being fired.

Reports also state that investigators were able to match up a bullet with a gun that witnesses say belonged to the suspect.

Since the shooting, Merced Sheriff's deputies have increased their patrols in Planada, and they see an 80% decrease in gang-related crime since the shooting.

Prado is being held at the John Latoracca Correctional Center on a more than $1 million bond.

Deputies are still investigating the shooting. They ask anyone with any information to call the Merced County Sheriff's Office.
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