Three men arrested in connection with the March 2012 gang-related shooting death of a 14-year-old boy in the Mount Hope area of San Diego pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges that could lead to the death penalty if they’re convicted.

Arnold Celaya and Angel Burquez, both 22, and Antriel Matthews, 23, are charged with the March 24, 2012, murder of Richard Carrillo, with special circumstance allegations that the killing was committed for the benefit of a gang.

Richard Carrillo. Courtesy photo.
Richard Carrillo. Courtesy photo.

“This case involves a gang murder in which gang members went into perceived rival territory, thinking they were going to find rivals to kill, and instead ended up killing a … child who had just turned 14,” Deputy District Attorney Shawn Tafreshi said outside court.

“It’s a big misconception that gang violence stays within gang circles, (that) gang members are killing other gang members,” the prosecutor said. “This case is a stark example of what happens when gang violence trickles down and ends up killing an innocent child.”

Celaya and Matthews were already in prison on unrelated robbery convictions when they were arrested and charged with the boy’s murder. Burquez was in jail on a warrant in a traffic case when he was arrested for the murder about two weeks ago, Tafreshi said.

An Aug. 1 status conference and Sept. 8 preliminary hearing are scheduled for all three defendants, who were ordered held without bail.

“I’m glad now that justice is going to be served,” said Elisa Carrillo, the victim’s mother. “I thank the whole (police) homicide team for helping me out. My son was really young and he didn’t deserve this. I believe that no one has the right to take anybody’s life away and that they should pay for the consequences of their mistakes, and what they did, because my son was innocent and he was still a kid.”

The victim — known to loved ones as Little Richie — was gunned down in the south alley of 3500 Island Avenue around 8 p.m.

The eighth-grader was sitting on the tailgate of a parked pickup, talking with friends, when a dark SUV rolled up and two men in their 20s got out and starting shooting, according to police. The gunmen then got back in their vehicle and fled westbound.

Carrillo, who attended Millennial Tech Middle School, turned 14 three weeks before his death.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis will decide after the preliminary hearing whether the defendants will face the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted.

— City News Service