On November 9th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments challenging the constitutionality of juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences. In preparation for oral arguments, JLWOP: Faces & Cases will be an on-going series on The Foundry that will tell real stories about juvenile offenders who are currently serving LWOP sentences.
Defendant: Andres Contreras, aged 16.
Victims: Anthony Castro, Alejandro Salazar and Pedro Flores.
Crimes: Murder and eight other crimes.
Crime date: March 27, 2005 in Tulare County, Calif.
During a two-day crime spree in 2005, Andres Contreras, a gang member, stole a car, attempted to murder one man in Earlimart, murdered another, and severely wounded a third man in Richgrove. He confessed to his crimes, and a jury found him guilty on all charges.
Andres Contreras was an admitted member of the Southern Gang (Mifa) of McFarland, California, in Kern County. The Southern Gang is known for crossing over the county line to attack rival gang members in Tulare County.
On March 26, 2005, Contreras stole a white Honda Accord in McFarland and used it to commit a drive-by shooting in Kern County that night. The next morning was Easter, and Contreras met with his fellow gang member, Ezekiel Perez. Around 9:00 a.m., they went to a K Mart located in Delano. They purchased .22 caliber ammunition for Contreras’s rifle. Then they drove from Delano to Earlimart, where they saw Pedro Flores standing outside of this apartment, talking on his cell phone. Contreras and Perez stared at Flores while he was on the phone and flashed a gang sign at him; Flores responded with his middle finger.
Contreras and Perez drove around the block and again passed Flores’s house and flashed a gang sign at him. While Contreras was driving, Perez pulled out the rifle and shot multiple rounds at Flores. None hit Flores. Flores dashed inside and made for an upstairs bedroom, where he and his sister peaked out the window at Contreras. Perez fired shots into the bedroom, before the Accord sped away from the scene.
Contreras and Perez drove to Richgrove. Shortly after 10:00 a.m., they noticed a brown Honda at a gas station and decided to stop there. They flashed gang signs at Anthony Castro and his little brother, Victor. Contreras and Perez followed the Honda as it left the gas station. Anthony picked up his friend Alejandro Salazar, who lived nearby, and then drove home to drop off Victor. Castro and Salazar parked the car and left the residence on foot.
According to Contreras, when he and Perez saw Castro and Salazar walking, Perez stated, “Yeah, I’m going to shoot them.” Contreras drove slowly by the two victims as Perez, in the backseat, fired several shots. According to witness statements, however, Contreras was actually the shooter, and Perez was the driver. Castro was shot in the chest and died. Salazar suffered three gunshot wounds: one to the head, one to the leg, and one to the buttocks. He survived but has not yet fully recovered.
That evening, Deputies from the Kern County Sheriff’s Office spotted the stolen Honda at a residence in McFarland. They found Contreras, along with a .22 caliber rifle and a shotgun, in the backseat of the car.
Contreras confessed to both shootings and further admitted to stealing the white Honda, buying the ammunition before the shooting, and wearing gloves before handling the gun. Officers executed a search warrant at Contreras’s home and found a shirt with the number “13” on it, a symbol of the Southern Gang. Witnesses described the shooter as wearing a shirt with “13” on it, and Contreras admitted he was wearing the shirt when the crimes were committed. He claimed that Perez, who was several years older and more senior in the gang, had coerced him to commit the crimes.
Charles D. Stimson is Senior Legal Fellow and Andrew M. Grossman is Senior Legal Policy Analyst in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.