One of two men convicted in the 2017 stabbing death of a Camp Pendleton Marine during a Gaslamp Quarter brawl was sentenced Friday to 19 years in state prison.
Jeff Shai Holliday, 29, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 21-year-old Ryan Harris, while his co-defendant, 41-year-old Jose Oscar Esqueda was found guilty of first-degree murder. Esqueda is due to be sentenced in July.
Esqueda was charged with stabbing Harris and another Marine, while Holliday was charged with murder and assault for sucker-punching a third Marine, which prosecutors allege sparked the fatal melee.
Deputy District Attorney Christopher Lawson told jurors the defendants were wandering around the Gaslamp around 1 a.m. Dec 29, 2017, looking for victims, a pattern he said was exhibited in a pair of would-be robberies the men took part in earlier in the year.
The prosecutor said the men cased the downtown area for a potential victim before settling on Christopher De Herrera, who was by himself at the corner of Island and Sixth avenues.
As seen on surveillance footage, Esqueda and De Herrera exchanged words, after which Holliday punched De Herrera in the head from behind. Four of De Herrera’s fellow Marines witnessed the altercation and ran over to intervene, leading to Harris’ fatal stabbing, as well as the injury stabbing of fellow Marine Andrew Haulman.
Defense attorneys said the fight was sparked by De Herrera asking Esqueda, “Where you from?” a common gang challenge that typically precedes violence.
Esqueda’s attorney, Zaki Zahawi, said the statement was taken as a serious threat of potential violence, though Lawson alleged the evidence did not show that De Herrera actually said the words, nor that they would justify the fight that followed.
Once the other Marines joined the fray, Zahawi said Esqueda tried to run, but was grabbed by Haulman, who began throwing punches.
The attorney said Esqueda then used the knife to lawfully defend himself. Harris was stabbed in the throat, while Haulman suffered wounds to his chest and back.
Along with the fatal stabbing, the men were convicted of robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery in two separate incidents that occurred in Pacific Beach and Chula Vista earlier that year. The pair were found guilty of stealing a bicycle from a couple in Pacific Beach on April 15 and accosting shoppers on April 29 at the Chula Vista mall.
Lawson alleged their behavior in those incidents mirrored their prowling of the Gaslamp Quarter in December, though Zawahi and Holliday’s attorney, Abram Genser, said there was no evidence to suggest the men were “on the hunt” for victims while they were walking around downtown.
City News Service contributed to this article.