By SDCN Staff
San Diego, CA– A 34-year-old man who was convicted in April of murder has been sentenced to 67 years to life in prison for killing 18-year-old Juan Muñoz, Jr. in 2015, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said.
Muñoz, Jr. was murdered as he was returning from buying soft drinks and snacks when he crossed paths with gang members.
In October 2015, Roger Hernandez and Luis Karam chased down Muñoz, thinking he was a rival gang member. When the teen stopped at a stop sign on the same block where his friends were fixing a car, Karam pulled in front of his car preventing Muñoz from being able to drive away. Hernandez got out of the car and issued a gang challenge. Before Muñoz could answer, Hernandez repeatedly fired into the car with a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun. Hernandez shot Muñoz multiple times through the arm, shoulder, and neck, killing him.
In 2018, the case had gone cold when the DA’s Office revisited the case. Working with National City Police, prosecutors, and DA investigators they were able to narrow in on two suspects and develop additional evidence.
Hernandez was arrested for the murder in November 2018. One week later, U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force attempted to arrest Karam, but he fled. When he was detained, he attempted to take his own life, but survived and was taken into custody. Karam was sentenced to 20 years in state prison in July after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter, admitting to an allegation that the killing was done for the benefit of a criminal street gang, and that a deadly weapon was used during the offense.
“This innocent young victim was hunted by violent gang members and was tragically in the wrong place at the wrong time,” DA Stephan said. “A measure of justice has finally been delivered to the family of Juan Muñoz, Jr. We will continue to fight to keep every neighborhood safe from crime and address gang violence through prosecution and prevention.”
The latest gang-related sentencing comes as law enforcement officials are grappling with an increase in gang-related shootings and the ongoing proliferation of firearms – in particular, so-called untraceable “ghost guns.” DA Gang prosecutions increased from 368 in 2020 to 465 in 2021.
Juan Muñoz’ parents, Elizabeth and Juan Sr. have channeled their grief into activism over the years, including focusing on addressing mental health issues and trauma resulting from violence.