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Jury convicts stalker of fatally shooting woman in Turlock
Juan Francisco Ibarra-Tapia
Juan Francisco Ibarra-Tapia

A Livingston man who stalked and harassed a woman for months before gunning her down in a Turlock parking lot has been found guilty of murder.

A Stanislaus County jury found Juan Francisco Ibarra, 25, guilty of first-degree murder while lying in wait, assault with a firearm, attempted murder, two counts of arson, robbery, stalking, and recklessly evading a police officer.

The victim, Zobeyda Esquerra, endured months of stalking and increasingly threatening behavior at the hands of Ibarra until he escalated the violence, which resulted in her death. Esquerra, who went by Zoe, was a resident of Livingston and was 22 years old when she was murdered.

According to the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the case against Ibarra, Esquerra befriended Ibarra in 2021 and within a few months Ibarra had become romantically obsessed with her. When he learned she had a boyfriend his behavior toward her became increasingly aggressive and threatening.

“Ibarra began following Zoe and would show up at her house in the middle of the night and knock on her doors and windows,” district attorney spokesman Chief Deputy District Attorney Wendell Emerson said in a news release.

Esquerra and her boyfriend moved in with each other and Ibarra ramped up his actions. Ibarra began vandalizing Esquerra’s car by scratching it, breaking out the windows, and throwing acid on it. Ibarra eventually set Esquerra’s car on fire by throwing a lighted flare inside of it. Soon after, Ibarra set her replacement car ablaze by using another lighted flare, according to the district attorney’s office.

Following the two incidents of arson, in October 2021, Ibarra followed Esquerra to work and was arrested. He was booked into the Merced County Jail and released on bail.

Around 9 p.m. on March 8, 2022, while out on bail from Merced County, Ibarra drove to the O’Reilly’s Auto Parts store at 1144 Geer Road in Turlock where Esquerra’s boyfriend worked. Ibarra parked some distance from the store and used binoculars to watch for Esquerra. When Ibarra spotted Esquerra arriving at the store he quickly approached her and shot her twice. She fell to the ground and Ibarra shot her two more times, according to the district attorney’s office.

Ibarra fired several shots at Esquerra’s boyfriend and a store employee before fleeing the scene in a light-colored sedan.

Multiple Turlock police officers were dispatched to the scene and while enroute spotted the vehicle Ibarra fled in. Officers attempted to stop Ibarra but he continued to flee and a pursuit ensued. Officers pursued the vehicle to the 1300 block of North Quincy Road, where the vehicle crashed into a fence. Ibarra fled on foot, which sparked a local area search.

Turlock Police Dispatch sent an emergency notification to residents living in the area to shelter in place, lock doors and report suspicious activity. Officers completed a yard-to-yard search and had began breaking down the perimeter, when an alert resident called 9-1-1 and reported seeing the suspect in the area. Officers found Ibarra hiding in the 1300 block of Estates Drive where he was taken into custody at gunpoint.

Emergency personnel attempted to save Esquerra’s life but she died there in the parking lot, the district attorney’s office reported.

While investigating this murder, detectives were able to connect Ibarra to an armed robbery where he held two employees at gunpoint and demanded money.

Ibarra is scheduled to be sentenced at 8:30 a.m. on July 3 in Stanislaus County Superior Court.