Justin Orozco


A Guadalupe man was sentenced to a decade in prison last week after pleading guilty to attempted murder charges related to a December 2020 gang-related shooting in Santa Maria in which a man was shot in the head. 

Justin Orozco, 20, appeared before Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Patricia Kelly, who handed down the 10-year sentence during the Oct. 20 hearing.

Orozco pleaded guilty to the charges on Sept. 8 as part of a deal after initially pleading not guilty on Dec. 23, 2020. In addition, Orozco admitted to three enhancements, including committing great bodily injury and using a firearm during gang activity.

Orozco wanted to be present in court to receive his sentence, which was much lower than the decades he was facing, according to Michael Scott, his defense attorney. 

"Ten years in prison is a stiff sentence for a young man but preferable to [40-to-life]," Scott said in an email. 

Orozco was Christmas shopping with his girlfriend the night of Dec. 14, 2020, when they had an argument and left her car while they were in rival gang territory, according to Scott. 

He walked along the street near the Evans Park Housing Authority complex when he passed the victim, who Orozco believed to be a rival gang member holding a 3-inch knife. 

When the two passed each other, the man turned around and walked toward the direction of Orozco, who responded by firing several 9-millimeter rounds shortly before 7:30 p.m. in the 200 block of West Williams Street, according to records. 

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The bullet penetrated the skull, taking off a portion of his brain, according to court records. The victim, who was not identified, survived and was left in a coma with paralysis and possible brain damage, according to an amended complaint filed on March 31.

Court records show nearby surveillance video footage did not capture the victim holding a knife. 

Scott argued there was an element of an "imperfect self defense" in the crime because his client legitimately believed he was in danger.

"Mr. Orozco was afraid he was going to be jumped," Scott said. 

But Orozco minimized the shooting immediately after the incident in text message exchanges with his girlfriend, according to Deputy District Attorney Gregory Nolan.

Additionally, Orozco intended to shoot at the victim's foot but blamed his handgun's laser sight for being off, records show. Scott called the incident a "tragedy for all concerned." 

"There's a big difference between whether you're aiming for the foot [versus] the head," Nolan said, according to records.