Thursday, June 19, 2008

Attorney wants second prelim tossed


Four months after a Superior Court judge dismissed a murder case against a 15-year-old boy because of a procedural error made by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, the boy’s public defender filed another motion Tuesday requesting the case be dismissed.
Deputy Public Defender Karen Atkins, who is representing Ricardo “Ricky” Juarez, 15, said the brunt of the motion deals with the defense’s belief that her client did not inflict the fatal stab wound that killed 15-year-old Luis Angel Linares. Linares was stabbed eight times in broad daylight during a gang melee on State Street on March 14, 2007.

Atkins said the motion also challenges testimony given by a Santa Barbara Police detective during Juarez’s most recent preliminary hearing, during which the detective said Juarez belonged to the Eastside Traviesos, which is widely thought to be a criminal street gang.
“There’s this big factual problem with the case itself that keeps popping up every time we begin litigating it,” Atkins told the Daily Sound yesterday. Mainly, “they’re trying to hold our client responsible for the criminal acts committed by somebody else.”
Juarez was ordered to stand trial by Judge Brian Hill after a five-day preliminary hearing concluded at the beginning of April. It was the second time Hill had ruled enough evidence existed to hold the boy over for trial.
After Hill’s first ruling, Atkins filed a motion similar to the one received by the court on Tuesday, claiming a number of missteps during the first preliminary hearing, which occurred in August 2007, were grounds for dismissal.
Judge Frank Ochoa agreed, and threw the case out last February. The judge cited the late filing of papers by the prosecutor, Senior Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer. Dozer did not return calls to the Daily Sound seeking comment for this story.
Hours after Ochoa’s ruling, Dozer refiled a murder charge against Juarez with gang enhancements. The District Attorney’s Office also opted to once again try the boy as an adult.
The Superior Court decided round two of the case should once again be heard by Hill, despite protests from Atkins. So far, it’s been a case of Déjà vu for everyone involved.
Atkins doesn’t deny her client committed a crime: no one disputes he was present on State Street that day, the site of his arrest, and witnesses say they saw him wield a knife at the intersection of State and Carrillo Streets. Also, a knife was discovered with Linares’ blood on the blade and Juarez’s DNA on the handle.
But during the first preliminary hearing, Atkins presented evidence that indicated another boy, referred to as Ricardo R., admitted to stabbing Linares. Furthermore, gloves worn by Ricardo R. were tested and found to contain small amounts of Linares’ blood.
All of this leaves Atkins at a loss for words as to why her client was the only boy charged with murder, and is now the only person facing life in prison as a result.
“If [my client] was not the only person who inflicted an injury, is it appropriate for him to be the only one charged?” Atkins said. “We recognize he did a crime but we don’t believe he should be charged with murder.”
Another case working its way through the court includes six defendants, all charged with murder in connection with the same gang-related stabbing death.
Four months after Linares was killed, another boy, Lorenzo Valentin Carachure, 16, was stabbed to death near his parent’s home on San Pascual Street.
Police made a string of arrests in mid May in connection with Carachure’s death, and six people, four of whom are minors, have all been charged with his murder. These six have also been charged with two counts each of attempted murder for the stabbings of two other people during the same fight.
All six men, including a seventh who was charged with accessory to murder after the fact, have entered not guilty pleas. A preliminary hearing for the defendants in the Carachure case is scheduled to begin Friday.
While the Carachure and Linares cases have glaring differences, one happened in broad daylight before a bustling State Street crowd and the other under the cloak of darkness on a Westside street that is often the site of violence, they’re also similar in the sense that they apparently involved a number of people.
At least five juveniles other than Juarez were arrested and charged with crimes in connection with Linares’ death, including Ricardo R. But all were tried in juvenile court. Though little is known about the exact charges and sentences, Atkins has told the Daily Sound in past interviews that none were charged with murder.
On the other hand, the half-dozen people involved in Carachure’s death all received murder charges with gang enhancements and all will be tried as adults.
Atkins declined to comment on the Carachure case.
The fact that Atkins has now filed a second motion to dismiss the case is unusual, but she said it’s rare to have two preliminary hearings with identical charges.
Until something changes with the way Juarez is being prosecuted, Atkins said it’s her duty to analyze every word uttered in court for a trace of botched procedure.
“We are going through everything the court does with a fine-toothed comb,” she said. “I think people would expect nothing less from us. They wouldn’t want us to roll over and let a 14-year-old [Juarez is now 15, but was 14 when he was arrested] go to prison for a crime he didn’t commit.”

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