Police / Fire

Murder suspect Barajas back in court

Decision on preliminary hearing date expected this week.
As Jose Antonio Barajas waits, his court-appointed attorney and the prosecution discuss dates for preliminary hearing with Judge Sanders. Photo by John Chadwell.
Judge Steven Sanders has been guiding hearings for the Barajas case since July. Photo by John Chadwell.
Jose Antonio Barajas is facing seven felonies, including murder and kidnapping. He plead guilty to numerous misdemeanor traffic violations. Photo by John Chadwell.

Jose Antonio Barajas, 24, appeared again before San Benito County Superior Court Judge Steven Sanders on Oct. 18 in connection with the 2014 murder of Ariana Zendejas, who was 18 at the time.

Barajas has appeared in court five times over the last three months. After the most recent hearing on Sept. 27, it looks like he was approaching a preliminary hearing after Sanders directed the prosecution and defense counsels to come back to court next week.

Following a whispered conference at the bench between Sanders, defense attorney Gregory LaForge and Assistant District Attorney Karen Forcum, they discussed the possibility of a preliminary hearing to be held either Dec. 17 or Jan. 14, 2019. The final decision will be made Oct. 25.

“I’d like to come back in a week with those two dates for a possible preliminary hearing and have both the prosecution and defense let me know if there are any witness problems with either of those dates, and then we can definitively set the date,” Sanders said. “And that gives Mr. LaForge a chance to go over some of the documents.”

LaForge explained later that at the preliminary hearing the prosecution would most likely present law enforcement witnesses. There is a chance, he added, that the prosecution might also call on citizen witnesses who either saw what happened or perhaps named in the district attorney’s complaint as victims of the crime that took place near West and B streets in Hollister, on the morning of Aug. 1, 2014.

“The DA will call witnesses to testify beyond a preponderance of the evidence that there was a crime and my client committed it,” LaForge told BenitoLink. “If that’s not proven, then he doesn’t get bound over for trial. I assume it’s going to be a 115, or hearsay, which is admissible through law enforcement. I can’t anticipate she [DA Candice Hooper] will call any [citizen] witnesses, but I can’t speak for the DA.”

If a trial is set, there may be, at minimum, six potential eyewitnesses against Barajas. In addition to Vanessa Flores-Ibarra, who has been described as Barajas’ girlfriend at the time of the killing, another woman was also named as a possible kidnap victim.

Barajas is charged with seven felonies, including the murder of Zendejas, discharge of a firearm, kidnapping, assault with a firearm with special enhancements, firing a weapon in a vehicle, and several misdemeanor traffic violations. He is also accused of committing an assault with a deadly weapon against four males. In addition, authorities have been reluctant to say whether Flores-Ibarra is a victim or an accomplice.

At his last court appearance, Barajas pleaded guilty to the traffic misdemeanors. Sanders accepted the pleas, levied fines for each and converted them to jail time served, thus clearing the books of the traffic violations.

Barajas continues to be held in the San Benito County Jail without bail.

Read other BenitoLink stories concerning Jose Antonio Barajas:

Murder victim identified as 19-year-old Hollister woman

Police seek Hollister man on murder charges

UPDATED: Female acquaintance of murder suspect reunited with family

Police say they’re still seeking murder suspect

Suspected killer of Ariana Zendejas arrested in Mexico, deported to U.S.

Jose Barajas arraigned on murder and six other felonies

Jose Barajas appointed public defender, no bail

Judge grants three-week continuance in Barajas case



John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a BenitoLink reporter and an author. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: johnchadwell@benitolink.com.