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Suspect In Cold Case Dies Awaiting Trial
cc Valdez
Shown in this photo following his arrest in late 2020, suspect Jesus Emilio Baraza Valdez, awaiting trial in the 1979 shooting of local bar owner Joseph Rocha, owner/operator of the former Rocha’s 120 Club near Escalon, has died in San Joaquin County Jail, officially bringing the case to a close. Photo Courtesy San Joaquin County Sheriff

After spending more than a year in the San Joaquin County Jail awaiting trial in connection with a 1979 homicide case in Escalon, suspect Jesus Emilio Baraza Valdez died there in January.

Also known as Emilio Baraza, the 75-year-old died of natural causes in early January and the death was announced later in the month through the Sheriff’s Department.

He was arrested in early December, 2020 for the June 27, 1979 murder of Joseph Rocha, who was the owner/operator of Rocha’s 120 Club, along Highway 120 near Escalon. The club is no longer in business.

An accomplice was arrested, charged and convicted in the case that same year, 1979, but authorities said Valdez, who they listed as the shooter, fled the country and changed his name.

In the original case, Valdez and his accomplice were at the bar and due to their poor behavior, were asked to leave. They returned later to purchase beer and after they were refused, Valdez shot Rocha.

The 2020 arrest grew out of a renewed emphasis by the sheriff’s department on ‘cold cases’ and looking to close them out.

“As promised, our Cold Case Unit has been working hard, reviewing and updating old cases as much as possible,” a statement from the department noted in a story originally published in The Times on Feb. 3, 2021.

“Although examining each case is a long and tedious process, they are making strides one case at a time,” the sheriff’s department said in a post on its Facebook page when initially announcing the arrest of Valdez, who had been held at the county jail since that time. He was arrested in Southern California, booked into the Los Angeles County Jail and then transported to San Joaquin County.

He was to stand trial in the 1979 homicide but the case had seen some postponements due to Valdez’s declining health.

With his death, sheriff’s department officials have now declared the case officially closed.