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Tribal members get probation in highly publicized case

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – A notorious murder for hire trial involving two southern California Indians culminated in sentences of probation Nov. 6.

Erik Barajas, 36 and his sister, Stacy Cheyenne Nunez Barajas, 26, tribal members of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, both agreed to plea bargains April 17 for conspiring to orchestrate the murder of a bar manager in 2006 after a confrontation.

Both are gang members, according to court documents. Attributed to records, newspapers reported that San Bernardino police learned of the murder plot after investigating drug activity in the area. They took the target, Leonard Epps, 37, into hiding days before he was set to be shot with a .40-caliber Glock handgun, newspapers reported.

The pair was sentenced to 5 years of probation. She was sentenced to one year in jail and he was sentenced to six months, which could be served by electronic monitoring, according to the plea bargain.

Also convicted in the case on attempted murder charges was Salvador Hernandez, 43, a reportedly Mexican Mafia drug kingpin. He received 10 years in state prison, according to court records. According to news reports, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration documents say the Mexican Mafia extorts money from some members of the tribe who receive at least $100,000 in monthly royalty checks that are generated from casino profits on the San Manuel Reservation.

Epps, the victim, protested what he described as the “leniency” of the sentences through his attorney who read a statement from the victim in court, according to documents.

“(Erik Barajas and Stacy Barajas) are running about, doing day-to-day things that people do to enjoy living. But, I am afraid to go into crowded restaurants, movie theaters, etc. for fear that someone, anyone will approach me and shoot me down,” Epps wrote.

Defense attorneys disagreed.

“This was not too lenient. The bargain in this case was based upon facts of the case and those facts came out of the police report,” said Charles Nacsin, attorney for Stacy Barajas.

Albert Perez Jr., attorney for Erik Barajas said the prosecutors considered the “credibility” of the victim when negotiating the plea bargain.

“The way I understand it (the victim), by gunpoint, robbed Erik and created some other lies,” he said.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos has rejected suspicion that a $12,000 campaign donation from the tribe had anything to do with the plea bargain after newspapers reported on the contribution.

Nacsin complained that newspapers ignored his comments when he described the tone of the newspaper coverage as being an “indignant insinuation.”

“They didn’t even print my name,” he said.