BY COLBY FRAZIER
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER
A group of Santa Barbara youths opposed to the District Attorney’s decision to try a 14-year-old boy as an adult in a murder case, plan to stage a five-day protest of that choice beginning on Monday.
“We’re just trying to come out and voice our concerns,” said Kristi Curtis, director of the quarterly publication Shape of Voice, which aided in the organization of the protest. “[The protesters] just kind of want to talk about their standpoint of the inequalities of the process that happened in charging Ricardo Juarez as an adult.”
Santa Barbara Police arrested Ricardo “Ricky” Juarez, 14, after a gang melee at the intersection of State and Carrillo Streets on March 14, which left 15-year-old Luis Angel Linares dead.
Juarez was charged with murdering Linares, and according to a statement by his public defender, Karen Atkins, which is published in the most recent issue of Shape of Voice, the decision to try the boy as an adult was announced two days later.
At the conclusion of a 12-day preliminary hearing in August, Superior Court Judge Brian Hill ruled that there was sufficient evidence to hold Juarez over for trial -- a decision that Atkins has said she plans to file formal objections to.
Atkins isn’t shy about her belief that District Attorney Christie Stanley’s decision to try Juarez as an adult is the wrong one.
“I think I’ve made that clear,” Atkins said. “I think it’s wrong on many levels, not the least of which is I don’t think he’s responsible for the tragic death of Angel Linares.”
During the preliminary hearing, Atkins presented evidence that she believes shows Juarez was not responsible for inflicting the fatal stab wound to Linares, who suffered from eight different stab wounds. The boy she argued played a more significant role, who was also arrested and charged with crimes related to the incident, is referred to by the court as Ricardo R.
Stanley won’t speak directly about the Juarez case, but said as District Attorney she has the responsibility to try minors as adults when the proper circumstances exist.
“As District Attorney I’m obligated by oath in this state and the United States to evaluate cases based on the particular facts, and in the matter of deciding whether or not to prosecute a juvenile as an adult, Proposition 21 provides that discretion to District Attorney’s under certain circumstances.”
Approved by 62 percent of California voters in 2000, Proposition 21 gave District Attorney’s the power to decide, without a judge’s ruling, to try a minor as an adult.
Since its approval, Stanley said 26 youth defendants in Santa Barbara County have been tried as adults, one of which was a 15-year-old convicted of murder in 2006. She said 11 of these cases involved gang allegations.
During 2006, the DA’s office tried more than 2,000 juvenile cases, 798 of which were on felony charges, while 1,552 were misdemeanors.
“You can see that it’s not something that we take lightly,” Stanley said. “The decisions we make in this office cannot and should not ever be influenced by outside pressure whether it’s political, social or otherwise.”
The faculty of the Department of Chicano Studies at UC Santa Barbara and a group called the criminal defense attorney’s of Santa Barbara County have both spoke out publicly against Stanley’s decision.
In the current issue of Shape of Voice, nearly two pages are dedicated to the Juarez case.
A letter written by local attorney Robert Landheer, which is designed to be cut out, signed and sent to Stanley, says: “All young adults deserve a chance to change and improve themselves; the juvenile justice system is based in a belief in reform instead of a desire to punish. Fourteen-year-old Ricardo Juarez should be given a chance to make that change; he should not be held responsible for a culture of gang violence nor be made an example of as an attempt to deter others.”
While it’s indisputable that Juarez was present on State Street that day, was seen wielding a knife by witnesses who testified during the preliminary hearing and left his DNA on the handle of a knife found by police, which also contained the blood of Linares, according to test results presented during the hearing, Atkins believes her client is not guilty of murder.
“It’s not to say that he’s entirely blameless in all of this,” Atkins said. “But I don’t think it’s right that a boy that’s only one month past his 14th birthday should be facing a life sentence, particularly if he’s not the person who inflicted the fatal injury. It just doesn’t seem right.”
Curtis said participants are encouraged to wear white to the protest and keep it peaceful.
Stanley said she did not plan to address the protesters.
“It’s not appropriate for me to comment on this case,” Stanley said. “And since that’s what their [the protester’s] statement is about, I’m not going to engage in that.”
One statement by an anonymous local youth in Shape of Voice simply says this: “The reasons I think they shouldn’t try Ricky as an adult is because he’s not an adult, he’s a 14-year-old kid that needs to experience life.”
Curtis said many of the protesters are Santa Barbara High School students. The daily protests will be held at the District Attorney’s Santa Barbara offices located at 1112 Santa Barbara St. and are scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. and end at 5 p.m.
Friday, November 2, 2007
BY COLBY FRAZIER