A murder charge was upheld Wednesday against a Santa Maria man who is an alleged gang member charged in the shooting death of a rival on West Donovan Road in December 2020. 

The case against Jesus Juarez Garcilazo, 19, who is suspected of killing 20-year-old Kevin Nunez-Escamilla now can proceed to trial following a two-day preliminary hearing in a Santa Maria courtroom.

In addition to the murder charge, Superior Court Judge James Herman upheld a special allegation that Garcilazo committed great bodily injury with a firearm. Garcilazo has pleaded not guilty to the charges. 

Garcilazo was physically present in the courtroom where COVID-19 measures that included mask-wearing were in effect, and families for both the victim and defendant were in attendance, but on opposite sides of the courtroom.

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The shooting was reported shortly before 4:30 p.m. Dec. 18 in the 800 block of West Donovan Road. Upon arrival, officers located Nunez-Escamilla on the sidewalk with a fatal gunshot wound, according to Santa Maria Police Detective Ryan Preast, who added an autopsy later revealed he had sustained two deadly gunshot wounds. 

Surveillance camera footage played in court showed Nunez-Escamilla, an alleged member of the local West Park gang, picking up a check from his employer's home before the seemingly chance encounter with Garcilazo, an accused member of the 18th Street gang, which is considered a transnational criminal organization. 

Public defender Erica Sutherland claimed that Garcilazo was targeted by Nunez-Escamilla and was defending himself. 

Garcilazo is scheduled to appear at 8:30 a.m. March 22 for an arraignment on information in Department 7 at Superior Court in Santa Maria.