A 25-year-old Sonora man who attacked a pedestrian multiple times during a drive-by assault in downtown Sonora accepted a plea deal Wednesday for one year in county jail and five years of formal probation.
Francisco Rico pleaded guilty to felony assault during the hearing in Department 4 of the Tuolumne County Superior Court for his role in the attack, which took place last October.
Rico, wearing jeans and a black hoodie, slouched on the table in front of him and often rested his chin on his folded arms.
He spoke little to Judge Kevin Seibert, but repeatedly said “yes, your honor,” when responding to questions regarding his rights and the plea deal.
Rico — along with a male juvenile — was accused of pummeling the victim in the face, head and body with his fists in two separate assaults near Lyons Road and Dodge Lane on Oct. 30, 2018.
Samantha Arnerich, the Tuolumne County Deputy District Attorney prosecuting the case, said the victim was walking when a white Mustang convertible occupied by Rico, a male minor, an unidentified minor and an 18-year-old driver from Tuolumne, Shelby Walter, nearly hit him. The man was attacked by Rico and the male juvenile, who jumped out from the vehicle. The victim heard Rico yell, “go back, go back” and he had to jump out of the car’s path to avoid being hit. Rico and the juvenile then assaulted the victim a second time.
The driver left and the victim hid with a large branch to protect himself. As the car drove by the victim again, he struck the side of the car with it.
“He thought he was going to die,” Arnerich said.
Rico was charged with two counts of assault likely to produce great bodily injury and felony battery with serious bodily injury. There were special allegations of causing great bodily injury attached to the two assault charges.
All charges except the single assault charge will be dropped according to the plea deal. Rico will also be required to attend anger management classes, stay away from minors and Sonora High School, perform 100 hours of community service and pay restitution to the victim, who has a five-year protective order.
Arnerich said after the hearing the deal could provide a comfort to the victim because it restricted Rico from filing an appeal.
“We anticipate that the judge, whoever does it, will follow the plea deal because it provides an early resolution and justice in the case,” she said.
Rico’s attorney, David Beyersdorf, said his client disagreed with some of the “characterizations” of the event, but decided to agree for the purposes of the plea agreement.
The previous hearing was postponed so Rico and Beyersdorf could review the victim’s medical records before a decision was made. The records indicated the victim sustained a concussion and bruising.
Arnerich said restitution had not yet been determined because the victim’s medical issues were ongoing.
Arnerich provided Beyersdorf with the details of the agreement and Rico signed the plea outside of the courtroom just before the start of the hearing.
Seibert referred Rico to the Tuolumne County Probation Office to prepare a report in anticipation of his sentencing hearing. Seibert cautioned a sentencing judge could invalidate the deal with a more strict punishment, which would allow Rico to withdraw his plea.
Rico’s sentencing hearing was set for May 13 at 8:30 a.m. in Department 4. The sentencing of his co-defendant, Walter, was changed from May 14 to the same time as Rico to align their hearings together.
Walter pleaded guilty to felony assault in a deal for five years probation and 150 days of electronic monitoring with an ankle bracelet. A five-year protective order would also be placed on the victim, she would be ordered to serve 200 hours of community service and pay restitution of a yet-to-be-determined amount.
Walter was not present at the hearing on Wednesday.
Arnerich said the judge who sentenced Walter, James Boscoe, had requested to review her probation report at sentencing and levy his judgment. Seibert said Boscoe would be out of town on the May 14 date originally scheduled for Walter, but added he would contact Boscoe to see if he would allow another judge to decide the sentencing hearing.
Boscoe had characterized the attack as “egregious” during Walter’s plea on April 5 and expressed doubt with the perceived leniency of the agreement.
“This is an unusual plea given the facts,” Arnerich said Wednesday, but noted it was sanctioned by the victim.
Beyersdorf said Rico would submit an Arbuckle waiver, which would allow another judge to sentence him.
Rico was arrested at the scene of the attack on felony assault charges along with a male juvenile. Rico was issued a $50,000 bail amount and was released from the Tuolumne County Jail on his own recognizance following his arraignment, in which he was charged with misdemeanor battery.
After Arnerich took over the case from Assistant District Attorney Eric Hovatter, Rico was charged with multiple felonies.
The male juvenile involved was charged and sentenced to a confidential punishment, Arnerich said.
Walter was not arrested at the scene, but was issued a citation for having alcohol in her system while operating a vehicle under age 21. Sonora Police Chief Turu VanderWiel said Walter had a blood alcohol content of 0.037, which was not a high enough level of alcohol intoxication to charge her with DUI.
Walter surrendered to the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 2 on a warrant for assault with a deadly weapon.
Walters was also facing a special allegation of inflicting great bodily injury on the assault charge and an additional felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon, which were dropped with her plea.
Rico and Walters remain out of custody before the sentencing hearing.