A man who was supposed to provide muscle for a friend collecting a drug debt but who instead slashed his throat has been convicted of murder, marking the second time in his life he played a role in a violent slaying.
A Santa Ana jury on Thursday found John Ramon Breceda, 40, guilty of second-degree murder and arson for stabbing 44-year-old Floriberto Villasenor Cortes to death in a Costa Mesa neighborhood in May 2015 and then torching Cortes’ car in San Juan Capistrano to hide evidence.
Breceda admitted that Cortes, a drug dealer, asked Breceda to come with him to collect money Cortes was owed by a Costa Mesa man.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown told jurors during the opening of the trial that Cortes was “not a good drug dealer” because he would give his clients the drugs up front and then try to collect money later.
Cortes was stabbed in the neck while sitting in a parked car. After the attack, a resident spotted him running down the street, then collapsing in a pool of blood. Other witnesses reported seeing one man chasing another, then getting into a vehicle and speeding off, leaving a sun visor in the street.
The burned remain of that vehicle, which belonged to Cortes, was found in a field near the I-5 Freeway and Junipero Serra Road in San Juan Capistrano. Bloody fingerprints on the sun visor were tied to Breceda.
A room key for an Anaheim motel found near Cortes’ body was tied to an on-and-off girlfriend of Breceda’s, and surveillance footage from the motel showed Cortes and Breceda walking in and out of the same room. The girlfriend testified that she went with Breceda to get a knife prior to the fatal stabbing.
During closing arguments, Brown acknowledged that they may never know exactly why Breceda killed Cortes. But the prosecutor noted that Cortes was attacked from behind and there was no evidence he fought back.
“He had no defensive wounds,” Brown said. “He never saw it coming.”
Breceda testified that he acted in self-defense after Cortes attacked him in the car, setting off a struggle over the knife. His attorney, Tom Nocella, told jurors that there was only a single stab wound, not a “frenzy” of stabs.
“What we have here is an individual defending himself when he was attacked with a knife,” Nocella told jurors.
A date for Breceda’s sentencing has not yet been scheduled.
The Cortes killing isn’t the first time Breceda has been tied to a murder.
In 2011, Breceda pleaded guilty to his role in the 1994 killing of 55-year-old Valentina Giles Roque in Santa Ana.
Prosecutors alleged that Breceda, at the time a minor, gave a friend a handgun and told him to shoot Roque, who had told the teens to leave an apartment complex they were loitering outside of.
The two teens confessed to detectives days after the shooting, but ballistic tests on the handgun were inconclusive, and charges weren’t filed. Fifteen years later, new technology allowed Santa Ana investigators to match the bullet that killed Roque to the gun.
Since the Roque killing came a year before state law changed to allow juveniles to be charged as adults, prosecutors in 2013 were forced to prosecute Breceda, then in his 30s, in Orange County Juvenile Court. And since juvenile court loses jurisdiction over minors after they turn 25, the conviction led to no legal penalty.
Source: Orange County Register