A man convicted of first-degree murder for a 1996 shooting following an argument at a San Francisco nightclub was sentenced today to 35 years to life in prison.

Julio Melendez, now 39, was convicted in June of murdering 22-year-old Jose Quesada after he and another man, Jose Fuentes, argued with Quesada at the El Toro nightclub in the city’s Portola District on Nov. 21, 1996.

Quesada, who was Mexican, and the men, who are El Salvadoran, had exchanged racial epithets at the club, and agreed to a fistfight at a Mission District playground, according to prosecutor Linda Allen.

Quesada and his friends followed Melendez and Fuentes in their cars, but Melendez and Fuentes never stopped at the playground.

The groups instead stopped near Woodward Street, where Melendez and Fuentes drew guns and ambushed Quesada from behind, shooting him in the back and then several times more as he lay on the ground, Allen said.

Melendez and Fuentes were indicted for murder by a criminal grand jury in 1997.

Fuentes was later convicted of murder, but his conviction was successfully appealed and he was convicted of manslaughter in 2004.

Melendez fled the Bay Area and was not arrested until 2008 in Virginia, where he lived with his family.

A jury on June 17 convicted Melendez of first-degree murder with a firearm use allegation and of being an ex-felon in possession of a gun.

Melendez had previously served multiple prison sentences after being convicted in 1990 for vehicle theft and two burglaries, in 1993 for being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm, and in 1994 for violating his parole.

Quesada also had a criminal record, and had just gotten out of prison for voluntary manslaughter, Melendez’s attorney Mark Jacobs noted at today’s sentencing hearing.

Jacobs argued Quesada was known as “a dangerous guy” and had provoked the fight.
Judge Cynthia Ming-Mei Lee said that while Quesada “may have been an unsavory character,” he was still the victim of murder.

“There’s no public service killing,” said Lee, “there’s no freebies.”

“Yes, he agreed to a fight, it appears,” Lee said, but she added there was no evidence Quesada had agreed to a gunfight.

“He got more than he bargained for,” Lee said.

Lee sentenced Melendez to 25 years to life for first-degree murder, plus a maximum 10-year sentence for the firearm allegation.

Jacobs said following today’s hearing that all three men had Sureno gang ties, Fuentes with MS-13 and Quesada with a separate Sureno faction.

Jacobs said he wasn’t sure whether his client was a gang member, but acknowledged that he did have acquaintances in the gang.

All three men knew each other, and the dispute that night had just been a “stupid” argument, Jacobs said.

“There was really no physical evidence (at trial), and the witnesses were, they weren’t quality witnesses by any means,” Jacobs said. He said the evidence “at the most” showed that Melendez “might” have been the second shooter.

“I don’t think they proved within a reasonable doubt that he was the shooter,” Jacobs said.

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