FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A 16-year-old Fort Wayne boy faces between 45 and 65 years in prison after pleading guilty to a count of murder in connection with an October shooting Monday morning.
Austin Moran, who police arrested shortly after the killing of 19-year-old Yael Edu Esparza near West Wildwood Avenue, signed a plea agreement which did not cap his sentence in any way or provide a recommended sentence.
An Allen Superior Court judge will decide Moran’s sentence next month – with a count of murder carrying between 45 and 65 years in prison with a maximum $10,000 fine.
Allen County prosecutors, who charged Moran as an adult after his arrest, only agreed to drop a 20-year enhancement levied against him for committing a crime using a handgun.
Moran had been accused of trying to set up what was likely a fake drug deal with Esparza Oct. 2 in an attempt to rob him. Instead, he ended up shooting Esparza, according to Allen Superior Court documents.
Fort Wayne Police officers were called to the 300 block of West Wildwood Avenue at about 9:15 p.m. that night where they found Esparza suffering from multiple gunshot wounds while sitting in the driver’s seat of a white Ford Escape.
Medics took Esparza to a local hospital where he later died. The Allen County Coroner later ruled his death a homicide.
Witnesses in the neighborhood readily spoke to police shortly after the shooting, according to court documents.
One witness told officers in court documents that he pulled up to his home just before the shooting and was approached by someone whose description matched Moran’s. This person asked the witness: “Are you him?”
Video surveillance from a nearby home captured Esparza’s SUV travelling west on Wildwood Avenue before making a U-Turn at the intersection with Weber Street. Seconds later, the video captured five gunshots, screams, more gunshots and more screaming, according to court documents.
That video also captured someone running away.
Another witness told police a person with red hair in a ponytail wearing red pants and a grey sweatshirt fled the scene. A different witness came forward and said the person running from the scene was a friend of his family.
One officer familiar with the neighborhood and also familiar with Moran then went to Moran’s home. There, this officer spoke with someone who knew Moran. This witness said she had an application on her phone that tracked Moran’s location.
When the witness opened the app, though, Moran had shut his location off. The witness called Moran while police stood with her, court documents said. At first, Moran said he was in Kendallville, and then he said: “It happened an hour and a half ago.”
While officers listened to the conversation, Moran said during the phone call that he “texted my friend to buy drugs and he had a gun, strap out a gun and I self defense and I reflexed and I pulled mine out and shot,” an investigator wrote in court documents.
An officer asked Moran if he really shot someone, and Moran replied, “Yes, I shot someone,” according to court documents.
The officer encouraged Moran to begin walking home, and a K-9 officer who had been canvassing the area took him into custody.
Police asked if Moran ditched a gun anywhere in the neighborhood, and he told them he left it near the SUV, according to court documents. A Smith and Wesson handgun reported stolen from Kendallville was found near the rear of Esparza’s SUV.
No other firearms were found.
Later, another witness told police he was with Moran all day. This witness told police Moran made comments that the was going to “rip” Esparza for “the carts” they agreed to buy from him, according to court documents.
The witness said he had no interest in doing this and left Moran. When this witness heard gunshots, he circled back to the area and found Moran on the porch of a home in a daze, court documents said.
“The defendant told (the witness) that he shot Esparza, he would not die, so the defendant said he kept shooting and had dropped his gun at the scene,” an investigator wrote in court documents.
As part of his plea deal, Moran waives his right to request alternative sentencing and also waives his right to appeal any sentence he receives on the basis that it is “erroneous, inappropriate, unreasonable, or for any other reason, as long as the sentence is within the terms permitted by this plea agreement,” according to court documents.
Moran is scheduled to be sentenced May 26.