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Man sentenced to life in prison for 2015 murder of teen mistaken for gang member

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Posted at 11:56 AM, Sep 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-09 14:56:18-04

NATIONAL CITY, Calif. (KGTV) — A man convicted for killing an 18-year-old he mistook for a gang member has been sentenced to life in prison, according to a press release from the San Diego County District Attorney's Office.

Roger Hernandez, 34, was convicted for the 2015 murder of Juan Muñoz, Jr. in April 2022. Hernandez was sentenced to 67 years to life in prison for the murder. The district attorney says Muñoz was murdered when he crossed paths with gang members as he was returning from buying soft drinks and snacks.

According to the press release, Hernandez and another gangster chased down Muñoz because they thought he was a rival gang member. As Muñoz stopped at a stop sign on the block where his friends were fixing a car, the gangster's car pulled in front of Muñoz to block his path.

"Hernandez got out of the car and issued a gang challenge," the press release states. "Before Muñoz could answer, Hernandez repeatedly fired into the car with a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun."

Muñoz died from the gunshot wounds to his arm, shoulder and neck, the district attorney says.

The press release says when law enforcement first investigated the case, it went cold in 2018. That's when the DA's office revisited the case, with help from the National City Police Department. Prosecutors and investigators were able to build a case against two suspects as they developed more thorough evidence.

Hernandez was arrested for the murder in Nov. 2018. His co-defendant, Luis Karam, was arrested a week later after he escaped from the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force. The release says Karam tried to take his own life, but survived and was taken into custody.

Karam was sentenced to 20 years in prison in July after he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. He admitted to prosecutors that the murder was done to benefit a criminal street gang, and that a deadly weapon was used during the killing.

DA Summer Stephan says Muñoz was tragically in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“A measure of justice has finally been delivered to the family of Juan Muñoz, Jr," Stephan says. "We will continue to fight to keep every neighborhood safe from crime and address gang violence through prosecution and prevention.”