Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Juarez murder trial starts today


The trial for a 15-year-old Santa Barbara boy charged with murder is expected to begin today in Superior Court, where attorneys for both sides are scheduled to issue opening statements.
Jury selection concluded yesterday, where four alternate jurors were picked. With the alternates, the jury consists of 11 women and five men.

The trial comes nearly a year and a half after 15-year-old Luis Angel Linares was stabbed to death during a March 14, 2007, gang brawl at the intersection of State and Carrillo streets.
Several boys were charged in juvenile court with crimes related to the fight, but Ricardo “Ricky” Juarez, who was 14 at the time of the assault, was the only person charged with murder.
The killing marked the beginning of what has become a significant uptick in local gang violence, which over the past year has taken the lives of three boys and left six juveniles charged with murder in adult court. All six boys have entered pleas of not guilty.
Juarez’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Karen Atkins, said this case is one of the most unique she’s dealt with in her 30 years in the public defender’s office.
“It’s been a very complicated, very multilayered investigation,” she said. “It is definitely the most complicated case I’ve ever had in my years of being here.”
One aspect of the case that distinguishes it from most, at least locally, was Atkins’ decision to subpoena all unpublished photographs taken on the day of the assault by the Daily Sound, Santa Barbara Independent and Santa Barbara News-Press. The Daily Sound and Independent fought the subpoenas, but were ordered by the court to hand over the photographs.
Another facet of the case, which set it back several months, came in February when Judge Frank Ochoa dismissed the case and all charges against Juarez. The judge cited a procedural error made by the District Attorney’s Office, in which the charging document was filed late.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer, who has been in the district attorney’s office in Santa Barbara since 1980, seemed to take the dismissal of the case in stride. Juarez was rearrested before he could be released from juvenile hall, and he was recharged with the same crime. For the next two months, a number of court appearances were held, including a second preliminary hearing, at which Juarez was ordered to stand trial.
But today, a jury will be seated and the case will go down a road it has yet to take — a fact not lost on Dozer, who has prosecuted gang cases almost exclusively since the early 1990s.
“There’s a certain level of excitement that we’re now ready to present evidence to a jury,” Dozer said. “I think it’s always important after a long process in a case where you’ve litigated many pretrial issues.”
Dozer also touched on the state of gang violence in Santa Barbara, and said this case is not only tragic for the victim, but for the defendant, primarily because of his age. He also said this case was unfortunately a “precursor and predictor” of the continued escalation of gang violence in Santa Barbara.
“That’s an unfortunate comment on the state of our city and community,” he said.

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