Villaseñor’s Witness Intimidation Plea Ends Prosecution On 5 Attempted Murder Raps

By Mark Gutglueck
Over the objections of the father of one alleged victim, Judge Jon Ferguson late Thursday morning, May 30, accepted a plea settlement in the criminal case against 18-year-old Sebastian Bailey Villaseñor worked out by Deputy District Attorney Deborah Ploghaus and defense attorney Daniel DeLimon in which the five attempted murder charges filed against the youth were dropped in exchange for his guilty plea on a single count of intimidating a witness.
Villaseñor, of Eastvale, was a senior at Ontario Christian High School when he was arrested on February 10 on suspicion of having violated PC 422(A) – engaging in threats of violence.
The case materialized after Villaseñor’s sister, Isabella, 15, who also attended Ontario Christian High School, on Thursday, February 8, spoke with one of the school’s counselors, Mitch Stutz, about an exchange she had that morning with her brother in the school parking lot. When she spoke about another student who attended the school, Isabella said, Sebastian expressed irritation, characterizing the coed as being haughty and dismissive of his advances, clenching his fist as he did so, and then told his sister not to talk about the other girl.
When Isabella told Stutz about what had happened, she expressed concern over what her brother might do. She added that she knew her brother had access to their father’s firearms and that over the Christmas break she had seen Sebastian posing with some of their father’s rifles in selfies he was taking. When Isabella further stated that her brother obsessively watched videos relating to school shootings available on the internet, Stutz consulted with Ontario Christian High School Principal Benjamin Dykhouse.
Dykhouse and Stutz contacted the Ontario Police Department, and that same day, detectives bypassing the more lengthy and involved process of obtaining a search warrant, crossed the Ontario City Limits and the San Bernardino County Line into Riverside County to Eastvale and the Villaseñor residence at 7940 Tallow Tree Circle, where they were able to convince Sebastian Villaseñor’s father, Jose Ramiro Villaseñor, to allow them to carry out a consensual search of the premises. In doing so, the detectives and officers turned up three handguns, seven rifles, a shotgun and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition owned by Jose Villaseñor. The detectives and digital forensic experts were also able to access the Villaseñor family’s computers as well as Sebastian Villaseñor’s phone and communication devices, along with his personal internet search history, photos, text messages, emails and social media accounts and postings.
The Villaseñor family cooperated with the police department for the next day-and-a-half. When, however, the family bristled at further-reaching intrusive requests, the police department acted decisively, arresting Sebastian Villaseñor on Saturday, February 10 at his Eastvale residence on the grounds that he had “engaged in threats of violence.”
On Wednesday, February 14, 2024, the sixth anniversary of the February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the Ontario Police Department, simultaneous with the filing of six criminal charges against Sebastian Villaseñor by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, staged a press conference announcing the arrest.
In heralding what he characterized as the exemplary performance of the men under his command, Ontario Police Chief Michael Lorenz asserted young Villaseñor was choreographing a precisely calculated hit involving five specific individuals that could be effectuated within a strict timeframe. “Villaseñor had every intention of carrying out a school shooting at Ontario Christian High School,” Lorenz said.
Neither District Attorney Jason Anderson nor the supervising deputy district attorney overseeing the matter, Joe Gaetano, sought to deviate from or attenuate the narrative that was being provided, which was that officers of the Ontario Police Department gallantly swooped in at the eleventh hour to narrowly prevent a horrific exposition of hate and carnage by stopping the homicidal maniac, who was less than a month beyond having achieved the age of majority, from slaughtering at least five and more likely dozens of innocent high school students. The district attorney’s office put its imprimatur on the department’s action by charging Villaseñor with one count of PC664/422 – attempted criminal threats and five counts of PC664/187 – attempted murder.
Kept under wraps and not mentioned during the press conference was that in the days and hours that led up to the press conference, there was some degree of disagreement within the district attorney’s office over how the matter should be handled – including whether a criminal filing was appropriate and, if so, what charges it should entail – and the advisability of inviting the level of public scrutiny that would put the office’s reputation on the line. The more sober assessment of at least a few of the office’s more experienced deputy prosecutors was that Villaseñor had taken no action that might be construed as homicidal and that without at least one overt act by the defendant to try to kill someone, the minimum necessary elements of the attempted murder charges did not exist and that, as such, the case against him was less than viable.
The following day, Villaseñor was arraigned in Rancho Cucamonga Superior Court before Judge Arthur Benner II, while he was officially being represented by a deputy public defender, Frank Loo, who had virtually no familiarity with the facts of the case. In a statement that emphasized the importance the district attorney’s office was placing on the matter and that it was in sync with Lorenz’s utilizing the circumstance to win accolades for the department he led, Supervising Deputy District Attorney Joe Gaetano, the head of the district attorney’s office in Rancho Cucamonga, represented the People of California. Using language that District Attorney Jason Anderson and other members of the office and perhaps even Gaetano would come to regret, Gaetano insisted that Villaseñor “poses a great danger to the community,” while hinting without offering any exacting proof that Villaseñor’s field of victims extended beyond the five people he intended to kill and the one other he was charged with threatening to perhaps scores of students at Ontario Christian High School.
Yet undisclosed was that the individual Villaseñor was accused of threatening or, to use the exact legal parlance, attempting to threaten, was his sister, Isabella. To virtually all outsiders – meaning those individuals not employed by the district attorney’s office or the police department – the assumption was that Villaseñor had engaged in making specific and explicit threats against one of his perceived or actual enemies and that he had taken steps to kill five others but had failed. This was driven home when Gaetano requested and Judge Benner granted a no-bail hold on the 18-year-old, consigning him to incarceration until and perhaps even during his upcoming trial. Gaetano’s statements and what was perceived as Judge Benner’s knowledge of the facts relating to the case set extremely high expectations among multiple quarters within the tantalized public at large, which was anticipating hearing, at some point, what murderous acts Villaseñor had engaged in and how it was that not even one of them had succeeded.
By the time of Villaseñor’s preliminary hearing, which took place on April 11 and April 16 before Judge Shannon Faherty, he was no longer represented by the public defender’s office. Rather, his father had retained attorney Daniel DeLimon, a former prosecutor with the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office who had handled 34 homicide cases before he had gone into private practice. During the course of the preliminary hearing, just how strong, or more accurately weak, the case against Villaseñor was put on display.
Deputy District Attorney Deborah Ploghaus, who had been entrusted by both Anderson and Gaetano with moving the case against Villaseñor forward after its marquee build-up through the preliminary hearing stage to trial and conviction, called Dykhouse, Stutz and Isabella Villaseñor as witnesses, followed by the officers and detectives with the Ontario Police Department who had examined Villaseñor’s activities – Jake Arakawa, Elizabeth Fries, Edmund McCorkle, Manuel Bonilla and Albert Alvarado. Villaseñor’s scribblings on a piece of yellow paper, photos or images referred to as “thumbnails” relating to the Columbine shooting, bomb-making and tactical outfits taken from Villaseñor’s cellphone or the Villaseñor family computer were introduced as evidence.
During her testimony, Isabella Villaseñor revealed that she was the object of the alleged criminal threat the case concerned. That much-belabored show of hostility, which she had related to Stutz and Dykhouse, was her brother clenching his first on the morning of February 8 in the parking lot when he told her to not mention the girl who had spurned one of his advances. She acknowledged she had also told Stutz and Dykhouse she had seen her brother self-pose for photographs with their father’s firearms in December and that he was frequently engaged with viewing videos about school shootings and playing violent video games.
The identities of the five students the district attorney’s office alleged Sebastian Villaseñor was targeting for death were disclosed during the preliminary hearing, though none of the officers or detectives with the Ontario Police Department who worked the case was able to produce any evidence or even indication Villaseñor had confronted or issued a threat to any of them. Nor was there any specific evidence that the defendant had acted on carrying out the action prosecutors alleged it was his intent to engage in. Marginally more convincing was data gleaned from Sebastian Villaseñor’s communication devices and a computer at the Villaseñor residence relating to internet searches the high school senior had carried out, which extended to how long it would take for the police to respond to the high school from the department’s south Ontario station and if and what kind of bullets would pass through the Kevlar vests worn by police officers, along with school shootings such as the February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and the April 20, 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. Investigators had also been able to locate the photos of Sebastian in tactical gear while holding rifles and a knife which Isabella had alluded to in her conversation with Stutz and Dykhouse on February 8.
Nevertheless, Alvarado, the lead investigator on the case who had the advantage of having heard the testimony of the other officers and detectives and who, accordingly, had a comprehensive knowledge of everything the matter entailed, was unable or unwilling, under oath, to say what action Villaseñor took that was consistent with murdering someone or attempting to murder someone. Moreover, the one count that stood independent of the supposed five murder attempts – threatening to inflict great bodily injury on someone – was revealed to have been Villaseñor shaking his fist at his sister in the school parking lot on February 8 when he told her to quit talking about the girl who had spurned him.
There was testimony from Isabella, Stutz and Dykhouse and at least two of the detectives that Sebastian was afflicted with a learning/social associative disorder that approximated or was autism.
Testimony from the detectives working the case revealed that they had hours upon hours of access to the cognitively-challenged Villaseñor outside the presence of his parents or legal counsel during which they were able to structure the nature and terms of the dialogue with Villaseñor and carry out an interrogation designed to break him down psychologically while peppering him with loaded questions which by their very nature were implicative no matter what response was ventured, such that his guilt was implied from the outset. Despite their intensive vectoring of his focus on what they insisted was his plan to go on a shooting spree and how he intended to carry it out, they were unable to extract a confession from him. The upshot of his interrogation was that shooting up the Ontario Christian High School campus was their invention rather than his.
DeLimon’s cross examination during the preliminary hearing was designed, and for the most part succeeded, in ramming home how far out in front of themselves the detectives and the prosecutors had gotten in insisting Villaseñor had murderous intent which he had acted upon.
Judge Faherty, who had once been a prosecutor in the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office herself and who was being pressured to assist her former colleague Ploghaus in the construction of a face-saving gesture for the office, Anderson and Gaetano, ruled, as Ploghaus argued, that Villaseñor’s fascination with guns and past school shootings, his 4,500 internet and/or cellphone searches which touched on such topics as tactics used in shootings, firearms, body armor and what type of bullets could pierce them and police response times betrayed his homicidal thoughts and obsessions. These thoughts and his on-line activities at some point become tantamount to plans and action, the judge opined. Without identifying any specific acts actually perpetrated by Villaseñor, Judge Faherty said she felt “nervous” things would have spiraled into mayhem if Isabella Villaseñor had not come forward to speak with Stutz, as Sebastian Villaseñor was involved in “a continuous course of conduct” leading toward “an actual plan.” She bound Villaseñor over for trial on the five attempted murder charges. The count of making threats of serious bodily injury against Villaseñor sister, embodied in the clenching of his fist when he was talking to his sister about the girl who wouldn’t give him the time of day, was dismissed.
Within the San Bernardino County legal community, Judge Faherty’s ruling was widely perceived as a “gift” to the district attorney’s office, one which was going to keep giving it headaches when the matter went to trial.
In California, the statute that covers a criminal attempt is Penal Code § 664 PC, relating to a would-be perpetrator failing to achieve some clearly-defined and specifically outlawed end or goal. Under California law, attempted murder consists of a failed attempt at killing someone, such as a perpetrator shooting, shooting at but missing, stabbing or unleashing what could be deadly force upon someone, in which the target yet survives. Thinking about or planning a murder does not suffice as attempted murder until such a plan is actuated, according to the criminal code and established case law.
To obtain a conviction under Penal Code § 664, a prosecutor must prove intent to violate a specific section of the penal code and a “direct act” to do so.
Upon District Attorney Anderson redirecting his focus to the Villaseñor case after the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, what he instantly understood was that his office would have no difficulty establishing that the defendant was a socially awkward, teen-angst plagued figure with an internet search history relating to some violent or potentially violent topics whose familial situation put him in proximity to a number of firearms, but that the case lacked the necessary criminal elements – overt acts or at least one overt act – to support a conviction. Even if the prosecution was able to usher the case before a panel of Villaseñor’s peers selected from a jury pool stacked with individuals disposed to convict whichever defendant who appeared before them – a prospect not unheard of in San Bernardino County – any such conviction would almost certainly be reversed on appeal. The offhanded instruction Anderson, who had once been a member of the Ontario City Council, uttered in February to the effect that he expected those in his office to back the Ontario Police Department right down the line had been taken too literally. The investigators with the police department, who as non-lawyers did not precisely know all of the criteria by which an attempted murder case is technically constructed at the trial level, had attempted to shoehorn the insufficient facts of the case into what they informally cataloged as an attempted murder case because their working assumption had been that Villaseñor was intent on avenging himself upon his schoolmates who rejected, mocked or ignored him through an act of violence, mayhem or carnage. In complying with Anderson’s instructions, both Gaetano and Ploghaus needed to stretch Penal Code § 664 to match the police department’s imperfect conception of what the crime was. The end result was a prosecution that failed to match the facts with the charges contained in the case, which set the district attorney’s office on a course of, at least embarrassment, and potentially a discrediting demonstration of incompetence.
An effort was quietly initiated to see if a plea settlement short of trial could be obtained.
Replicating the overbearing approach that had created the circumstance in the first place, the district attorney’s office initiated the negotiations, as is so often the case, with an unrealistic offer from which a more pragmatic middle-ground deal can be arrived at through compromise. Ham-fistedly, the district attorney’s office offered to accept guilty pleas on the five attempted murder charges in exchange for recommending that the defendant, who had been in continuous custody since February 10 in the West Valley Detention Center’s general population among both convicted and accused murderers, rapists, armed robbers, strong-arm robbers, burglars, shakedown artists, grifters of every conceivable stripe and experienced criminals of multiple kinds, be given a sentence equivalent to time served and probation that would require he undergo a concerted round of psychological care until such time that prosecutors were sufficiently confident he no longer represented a danger to the community. DeLimon, who intimately knew the weakness inherent in the case prosecutors had enmeshed themselves in, rejected the offer out of hand. The district attorney’s office inquired: “What about a plea to a single count of attempted murder?” Definitely not, responded DeLimon, who insisted that his client was technically not guilty of any crime, let alone what he had been charged with. He made it clear that his client, who had not aimed a gun at anyone, would not plead guilty to anything along the lines of what was being offered.
The district attorney’s office made an approach from a different direction, offering to vacate all of the attempted murder charges and recommend that Villaseñor endure no further jail time if he would enter a single guilty plea to felony assault with a firearm. That deal was conditional upon Villaseñor, through DeLimon, further accepting what was to be an unapplied use-of-a-firearm-during-the-commission-of-a-criminal-offense sentencing enhancement, one which would be held in abeyance as long as Villaseñor cooperated in participating in and completed receiving mental-health treatment as part of his probation. At issue for DeLimon, however, was that the district attorney’s office was again constructing a guilty plea on a crime his client had not, in fact, committed. Moreover, the conditions of the plea would require that Villaseñor complete to prosecutors’ satisfaction whatever mental-health care regime they specified, such that if Villaseñor did not, he would be subject to a revocation of his probation, which would trigger the application, potentially, of the 19-year prison sentence for the assault-with-a-firearm offense.
DeLimon rejected that deal.
The normal air of confidence that pervades the district attorney’s office, which enjoys the fundamental advantage of being able, almost uniformly and universally, to bargain from a position of strength, was evaporating. Indeed, up against DeLimon, it was not even capable of a prosecutor’s office’s leverage of last resort: bluffing. The weekend of May 18/19 was one of uncommon anxiety for Anderson, who was coming face-to-face to what he had saddled himself and his office with in February.  By going along with the Ontario Police Department’s self-aggrandizement, he had failed to engage in the wisdom his nearly 27 years as an attorney had instilled in him when he opted out of exercising the prosecutorial restraint the constituents who had voted him into office credited him with possessing. He and his office were on the brink of going to trial and, based on his having himself handcuffed his deputy prosecutors into pursuing a dead-end legal argument, being unable to hold accountable a defendant he and his minions had celebrated as a public enemy of the first order. If such an outcome were to manifest, Anderson would sustain a self-inflicted wound that would in all likelihood result in his either leaving office voluntarily at the end of his second term in 2026 or facing an enterprising and opportunistic political opponent who would use the Villaseñor acquittal to have him suffer the ignominy of being voted out of office. Even if he were to survive politically, the Villaseñor chapter in the history of the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office would register as a black eye on the order of then-District Attorney Jerome Kavanaugh’s 1946 prosecutorial debacle in the case of People vs. Wardwell Evans.
Anderson, Gaetano and Ploghaus early on the morning of May 20 renewed their seemingly moribund negotiations with DeLimon one last time, resolving to dispense with the ineffective bluster and the self-delusional supposition of prosecutorial primacy that characterized the earlier effort to come to terms with him. Gripping firmly on the last two vestiges of a carrot and a stick that remained to them, they renewed the quest for a settlement of the Villaseñor case short of trial. The carrot: an unequivocal guarantee, one that went infinitely beyond the promise of a no-further-jail-time sentencing recommendation to the judge to hear the case, that Villaseñor would be released from custody immediately. The stick: a threat that if the matter were not settled, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and Anderson would utilize agency-to-agency privilege to encourage the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office and Riverside County Mike Hestrin to file felony Penal Code § 25100 charges against Jose Ramiro Villaseñor. Penal Code § 25100 prohibits storing a firearm in an unsecured location where a minor can obtain access to it.
At the preliminary hearing, Isabella Villaseñor had testified that in December 2023, her brother had posed for selfies while in possession of two of his father’s semi-automatic rifles. Indeed, during the search of the Villaseñor residence on February 8, Ontario detectives had located digital versions of those photos. Between the time those photos were taken and the incident in the Ontario Christian High School parking lot that had triggered Isabella’s report to Stutz and the consequent involvement of the Ontario Police Department and search of the Villaseñor home and the arrest and prosecution of Isabella’s brother, Sebastian on January 21, 2024 had eclipsed his 18th birthday. That meant that in December, when the selfies were taken, Sebastian Villaseñor was a minor. Between the photos and Isabella Villaseñor’s testimony, the case against Jose Ramiro Villaseñor on the Penal Code § 25100 charges was airtight. A simple phone call from Jason Anderson to Mike Hestrin would bring about the initiation of the case against Jose Villaseñor.
Such a development would have a devastating impact on Sebastian Villaseñor’s defense. It would greatly interrupt the stability and cohesiveness of Sebastian Villaseñor’s support network, meaning his family and DeLimon. Jose Villaseñor becoming a criminal defendant would entail his having to secure legal representation of his own and the application of an expensive and time/energy consuming defense strategy. Moreover, it would create, or introduce, a legal conflict between father and son, one in which the pursuit of a legal theory of defense for one could harm the other. Such a reality might induce Jose Ramiro Villaseñor to dispense with the services of DeLimon in representing his son. While DeLimon had made a considerable commitment of time, mental intensity, and energy in representing Sebastian Villaseñor, a decision by Jose Villaseñor to withhold financial support from his son’s criminal defense effort would severely undercut that undertaking. While there was a prospect of DeLimon continuing on with what would be a pro bono defense of Sebastian Villaseñor, that would be unlikely. Even if that were to occur, the intensity of focus and effort that DeLimon had previously evinced might be compromised. Ultimately, interrupting the Villaseñor defense effort would, to one degree or another, boost the prosecution.
By May 23, word was emanating from the district attorney’s office that some order of prospective plea arrangement had been reached with DeLimon. Questions, however, persisted, as there was a lack of clarity as to how the district attorney’s office could guarantee that the judge or judges before whom the case was ultimately to be heard, Judge Jon Ferguson and/or Judge Joseph Widman, would consent to the plea deal, as the designated trial judge would ultimately have discretion as to whether terms of any plea bargain would be binding on the parties. In making such a decision, a judge carries out an analysis, evaluating the circumstances of the case, the nature and seriousness of the charges, whether the punishment is appropriate in consideration of those charges, the defendant’s character and prior criminal record, issues of public interest and how the punishment will impact the interest, as well as the wellbeing and safety, of the victims of the crime.
On Thursday, May 30, a pretrial hearing in the Villaseñor matter was scheduled in Department 9 at 8:30 a.m. Also on the day’s calendar before Judge Ferguson were hearings for a multitude of other criminal cases. There was a nearly one-hour delay before any of those hearings began as several of those defendants appearing that morning who were in custody arrived shackled both singly and in some cases in tandem from where they were held. The in-custody defendants were led to the empty jury box where they sat and, in some cases, briefly conferred with their attorneys prior their matters being taken up by the judge.
Both Ploghaus and DeLimon were in the courtroom well prior to Sebastian Villaseñor, who was one of the last in-custody defendants to arrive, being present. DeLimon briefly spoke with Jose Ramiro Villaseñor, who was present in the gallery. At one point before Villaseñor’s arrival, Ploghaus and DeLimon together went into a backroom on the east side of the north-lying interior wall of the courtroom, the entrance for which is opposite the entrance into the judge’s chamber also on the northlying interior wall on the courtroom’s west side behind a screen. Ploghaus and DeLimon remained in apparent conference in the backroom for approximately ten to 15 minutes.
Thereafter, the hearings for the other defendants in the courtroom began and continued intermittently, with sheriff’s deputies or bailiffs escorting those in-custody defendants out of the courtroom almost immediately after individual hearing for each of them concluded. At one point, while she was situated near the counsel table during an early break after the hearings for the other defendants had begun, Ploghaus received from a member of the district attorney’s clerical staff a multi-page document. Shortly thereafter and while Judge Ferguson was still in his chambers, she presented the document to DeLimon. They spoke in hushed tones which were not audible to those in the gallery, though at one point, DeLimon could be seen gesturing to a spot on one of the pages and could be heard saying that the “release,” apparently Villaseñor’s release from custody, was to take place that day. Somewhat resignedly, Ploghaus nodded.
After Villaseñor was brought into the courtroom and seated in the jury box, during one extended period while Judge Ferguson was again in his chambers, DeLimon sat next to his client and produced what appeared to be the document that Ploghaus had provided to him, which was contained on a clipboard. They appeared to be jointly reading or going over the document’s contents, with DeLimon explaining or expounding upon the items contained therein. Villaseñor was attentive and engaged in what was being discussed, generally nodding his head in affirmation to what was being relayed to him by DeLimon. Because his hands were shackled and connected by a chain to another chain around his waist, Villaseñor supported the clipboard on his legs and was obliged to keep his hands near his groin as he used what appeared to be a pen that DeLimon had provided to him to sign or initial using his left hand the document at various spots as they continued with their examination of it. When they finished with the top page, DeLimon removed it from the clipboard and placed it on the ledge of the partition in front of them, making their way in this fashion through three pages. This side-by-side dialogue lasted for more than ten minutes. Only once did Villaseñor’s body language register disagreement or a show of remonstration with what was in the document or what DeLimon was telling him, his head for a time nodding not up-and-down in apparent assent but rather from side-to-side. Calmly and with what came across as persistent patience, DeLimon spoke, it appeared gently, himself nodding slightly in assent, which ultimately resulted in Villaseñor’s tense demeanor softening, punctuated by a replication of his attorney’s up-and-down nodding, at which point Villaseñor affixed his signature or initials onto the document on the clipboard in his lap.
Twice more during the breaks between the hearings of the other defendants in the courtroom, DeLimon and Ploghaus returned to the backroom of the courthouse to confer further. Villaseñor’s hearing was the final one held that morning, taking place close to three hours after its scheduled commencement at 8:30 a.m., after the clock had eclipsed 11 in the morning.
Judge Ferguson allowed Bobby Dean Antonelli, the father of one of the girls Villaseñor was accused of plotting to kill, to address the court.
Reasoning that Anderson stated publicly that the district attorney’s files charges only upon the belief that they can be proven to a jury of 12 in court beyond a reasonable doubt and that the five counts of attempted murder had been sustained through the preliminary hearing process as sufficient to go to trial, Antonelli called upon Judge Ferguson to reject the plea deal.
Throughout the preliminary hearing, Antonelli asserted, the community “didn’t hear any exculpatory evidence. I don’t see [the justification for] this shift between five counts of attempted murder and this situation.” The justice system process had not adequately revealed “why does he want to murder,” Antonelli said. The father said it was his place to try to protect his daughter and that was the case for the parents of the other four students who had been identified as Villaseñor’s intended victims but that they were “too scared to be here.”
Stating he believed Jose Villaseñor loved his son as much as he loved his daughter and wanted what was best for his son, Antonelli said of Sebastian Villaseñor, “This man needs help,” but noted that help had to be provided in “an appropriate way, in a custody environment where he is safe, and the community is safe.”
Antonelli said that with Villaseñor at large, his daughter’s head would continually “be on a swivel and I guess the other kids feel the same way.” Antonelli said that justice would not be served if the mental health treatment Villaseñor is to receive “does not include custody time.” He asked that “in the interest of the community as a whole and the interest of my daughter, you reject any deal that does not include incarceration.”
Judge Ferguson emphasized that the discussion leading toward the mutual decision reached by the district attorney’s office and defense counsel had not taken place “haphazardly” and that his decision to accept the terms worked out in the plea arrangement “took into consideration” many factors including that the defendant was “very young, 18” and “not a criminal,” while analyzing all of the factors extending to the facts and implication of the case and the impact of what occurred and might have occurred on everyone involved. He said given that the district attorney’s office had submitted the plea agreement and was satisfied that its terms and conditions, including the ability to adjust them “down the road” if Villaseñor did not adhere to them, he believed the requisite protection of the public safety was met and he was inclined to accept the plea deal as it had been structured.
Judge Ferguson then questioned Villaseñor directly, ascertaining that he understood he was pleading guilty to a serious felony, witness intimidation, and giving up certain of his rights by accepting the guilty plea, including waiving the right to a jury trial, to contest the evidence against him and confront and cross examine the people’s witnesses.
DeLimon state for the record that in the acceptance of the plea by all parties Villaseñor was to be released that day.
Judge Ferguson enumerated the conditions of the plea arrangement, including the restrictions placed upon Villaseñor. Thereafter all parties stipulated to the arrangement, the substitution of Penal Code 136.1(C)(1)-F: preventing or dissuading a witness or victim by threat or force for what had been Count 6, to which Villaseñor pleaded guilty, and the resolution of the case was entered. Judge Ferguson ordered Villaseñor to appear in his courtroom on July 1 for the pronouncement of sentencing.
In the hallway outside the courtroom, Jose Ramiro Villaseñor said he looked forward to having his “family pick up the pieces [and get] back to normal.”
He said he believed the entire episode grew out of multiple layers of misinterpretation in which “The police and the district attorney failed to understand how autism works.”
He said that in welcoming his son back he anticipated no problems between his son and daughter in the aftermath of the ordeal which was precipitated in large measure by Isabella’s statement to her high school counselor about Sebastian.
Jose Villaseñor said the two had visited while Sebastian was incarcerated at West Valley Detention Center and that they remain “best friends. It’s like nothing happened. There’s no animosity between them.”
The father said he believed his son will be able to meet all the terms and conditions of his probation while living at the family house. He said he does intend to seek the return of the firearms that were seized from the house on February 8 by the Ontario Police Department but that upon regaining them he will store them elsewhere.
DeLimon acknowledged having “mixed feelings” about the resolution of the case, in that his client had avoided a conviction on five charges that were not based on any fact or supported by any evidence or testimony but had been convicted of another lesser crime of which he was factually innocent.
The attorney said his client had been misframed and misrepresented by the tactics used by the police during his interrogation.
“They made it sound like they had this person who was an imminent threat of committing a school shooting,” DeLimon said. In reality, the concept of a school shooting was a fiction, DeLimon said, as much of a creation of the police as something that loomed in young Villaseñor imagination. In response to questions the police asked, DeLimon said, his client responded with questions of his own. Those questions were then misinterpreted or misrepresented as statements, DeLimon said. “He kept saying, you know, ‘I fixated on school shootings. I had thoughts.’ He kept asking for information like, ‘Are my thoughts criminal?’”
The district attorney perpetuated the police department’s false narrative, DeLimon said.
The situation, in which Villaseñor would have to stand trial and put himself in the hands of a jury which would be subjected to that false narrative by the prosecution, reduced itself to something comparable to a roll of the dice, DeLimon said. DeLimon said while he believed he could probably vindicate Villaseñor at trial, there remained the possibility of conviction on all of the attempted murder charges, which would have netted his client a sentence of as much as 75 years in prison.
“No matter how innocent you are and no matter how good your case is and no matter how hard we will fight for you, I can never give you a 100 percent guarantee,” DeLimon said. “Even though we believe we would prevail, the risk is not zero. The plea establishes that he is completely and totally innocent of attempted murder or plotting a school shooting. This eliminates the risk for him at trial so he can move on with the rest of his life.”
On the courthouse steps, Antonelli told the gathered media that his daughter “is terrified. She doesn’t want to leave the house. Now he is going to be free tonight, after he is processed in the county jail, with nothing protecting my daughter or any of the other children or anybody in this community, quite frankly, with the exception of a promise to be good, a promise to not break any laws. Unfortunately, it’s not a win for my daughter, my family or the people in this community.”
In the immediate aftermath of the hearing, Ploghaus offered no comment. The following day, however, the district attorney’s office, on its website, provided an update on its previous statements with regard to the Villaseñor case. Noting that Villaseñor had entered a guilty plea to the Penal Code 136 charge, the update stated this constituted “a felony and strike offense which cannot be reduced. Villasenor (sic) will have credit for time served, and 3 years felony probation which also cannot be reduced. Some, but not all, of the terms and conditions include weekly counseling and monthly reports as directed by probation, 4th Amendment waiver for search of all electronic devices, defendant not to possess firearms, ammo, body armor, or weapons of any kind including replica firearms for the rest of his life, [a] stay away order [of] 500 yards from Ontario Christian [High School] and the students currently listed in the information, and no early termination of probation.”
The update then quoted Anderson as saying, “This is an unprecedented case; we are not aware of any other case in California in which a filing like this was made when a gun was not present at a school. The plea agreement was carefully negotiated at length to balance public safety with all factors and how we believe the law is applied. My office was not willing to risk Mr. Villasenor released without being held to terms and conditions while ensuring that quite possibly, for the first time in his life, he will be required to get counseling, supervision and consequence.”
It took more than eight hours for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which runs the county jail facilities, to fully process Judge Ferguson’s ruling accepting the plea and its terms. Villaseñor was transported from the Rancho Cucamonga Courthouse to the West Valley Detention Center, which is also located in Rancho Cucamonga and where, with the exception of court appearances, he had been jailed continuously since February 10. There, beginning about mid-afternoon, he underwent the county’s inmate release procedure, which ended with his movement through the jail sally port into the lobby at 8:23 p.m.

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