A parolee and two juveniles accused of killing a 16-year-old East Hemet boy during a robbery pleaded not guilty today to first-degree murder and other charges.
Francisco Roy Zavala, 20, of Hemet, Francisco Siordia, 17, of San Jacinto, and Joseph Venegas, 15, of Hemet are accused in the Jan. 14 slaying of Eric Ronald Sargeant Jr.
The defendants appeared with their attorneys today at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Judith Clark, who set a felony settlement conference in the case for March 8.
All are being held without bail — Zavala at the Southwest Detention Center, his codefendants at Southwest Juvenile Hall.
They’re each facing a special circumstance allegation of killing during the commission of a robbery. That could make Zavala eligible for the death penalty if he’s convicted.
The District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting Siordia and Venegas as adults, but because of their ages, they would not face capital punishment if found guilty.
Sargeant was fatally stabbed near the intersection of Acacia Avenue and Cherrywood Drive, not far from his home.
The youth was walking in the neighborhood around 5 p.m. when he was confronted by three to four males, who demanded he hand over his mobile phone, witnesses told sheriff’s deputies.
The teen was attacked when he refused to comply, with Zavala allegedly stabbing him multiple times, according to investigators.
The victim was airlifted to a hospital, but died five hours after the attack.
His assailants fled through a vacant field and disappeared from sight, but all were arrested within three days.
According to court records, Zavala has a 2011 conviction for burglary and a 2010 conviction for vandalism.
Two weeks after he was sentenced to probation for the latter crime, he committed the burglary, records show.