Merced County Sheriff’s investigators have arrested a 29-year-old Mexican national for the killing of a 71-year-old Ballico man in a botched home invasion robbery.
The arrest of the suspect, identified as Rogaliano Gonzalez Munoz, came after Munoz himself was a victim of a violent crime. During the course of the investigation detectives collected a sample of Munoz’s DNA that ended up linking him to the Ballico crime scene.
Both crimes appear to be motivated by thefts of marijuana, said Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin. Though in the case of the Ballico homicide, it may have been a case of misguided information.
“What we find terribly ironic is that a lot of people tend to believe these illegal marijuana grows come with no negativity attached,” Pazin said. “It’s quite the opposite as you can tell.”
Everything was set into motion on the afternoon of Feb. 19, when three to four men burst into a home in the 12000 block of Lombardy Road in Ballico and demanded money and drugs from the residents.
The sheriff’s department believes the suspects specifically targeted the Ballico home, but may have done so based on faulty information. Investigators have yet to find any marijuana connection to the residents, sheriff spokesman Deputy Delray Shelton said.
The residents tried to flee the home when the gunmen came in, but were stopped and led back into the home.
“These goons with guns basically overran the family, caught the victim outside, and literally marched him back in the house,” Pazin said. "(They) threatened to kill the wife, but instead ended up killing the victim.”
The victim was 71-year-old Ramon Jimenez. He was gunned down in front of his wife, Pazin said.
The suspects fled immediately after the shooting. The sheriff’s department was notified and arrived to the scene quickly, but Jimenez was already dead.
Investigators were able to collect DNA samples from the scene and later that DNA showed up at another crime scene.
On July 13, the sheriff’s department responded to the area of Fisher and Oakdale roads in Winton for reports of shots fired.
Investigators arrived to find a bullet-riddled vehicle crashed into a ditch. A 48-year-old woman and a 29-year-old man had both sustained gunshot wounds and were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. Both have since recovered from their injuries.
The 29-year-old man provided a name to sheriff’s investigators, which turned out to be false. He was later identified as Munoz, but by that time he had left the area.
Through the investigation, detectives learned Munoz and the others were scouring the countryside looking to steal marijuana from illegal growing operations. They had found one and had it under surveillance, but unbeknownst to them, the men tending to the marijuana crop were aware of the thieves’ presence and were mounting an attack plan.
“The hunter became the hunted,” Pazin said.
The men chased down Munoz and the woman in their car and fired multiple shots at them, before Munoz crashed the vehicle into a ditch in a failed attempt to escape. The shooters fled before sheriff’s deputies arrived.
Investigators collected DNA samples from the crime scene and sent them off to the Department of Justice laboratory. A little over a month ago, the results came back as belonging to Munoz and tied him to the DNA samples collected at the Ballico scene.
“This has a real interesting CSI component to it,” Pazin said. “It’s a very methodical process, but it pays great rewards at the end of the day.”
Detecives learned Munoz was living in the area of Humboldt, Nev. and had him taken into custody by the local authorities.
Munoz is currently being held at the Merced County Jail with no bail on a charge of first-degree murder and deportation proceedings, Shelton said.