Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Defense wraps up closing in Juarez trial


Closing arguments continued in the murder trial of 15-year-old Ricardo “Ricky” Juarez yesterday in Superior Court, where the boy’s public defender said her client went to the downtown gang brawl not with the intent to kill, but to defend his “love.”
“He never intended to kill anyone,” said deputy public defender Karen Atkins during her more than four-hour long closing statement that began Monday. “He was just trying to push the Westside back for the disrespect they’d shown his girlfriend.”

Atkins told the Santa Barbara County jury of 10 women and two men that Juarez’s actions that day, while “irrational” and “irresponsible,” were not and should not be construed as murder.
She told the jury there’s no disputing her client played an integral role in the March 14, 2007 gang brawl that left 15-year-old Luis Angel Linares lying dead in planter behind the Saks Fifth Avenue department store.
And she said the prosecution, led by deputy district attorney Hilary Dozer, did prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Juarez committed assault with a deadly weapon, but fell short in its attempt to show the boy committed murder.
While the prosecution focused on Juarez’s involvement in the gang fight, the defense highlighted the actions of another boy, referred to in court as Ricardo R. Atkins and defense co-counsel Jennifer Archer said this boy, not Juarez, is responsible for killing Linares.
Juarez was taken into custody by Santa Barbara Police officers at the scene of the crime near the intersection of State and Carrillo streets, but Ricardo R. got away.
He avoided arrest until several days after the killing, and a few months after, pleaded guilty in juvenile court to assaulting Linares with a knife, according to statements read during the trial by Judge Brian Hill.
As detectives were busy putting a case together that focused on Juarez as the stabber, and the District Attorney’s Office filed charges against the boy, opting to try him as an adult, Atkins said Santa Barbara Police Officer Alexander Cruz was slowly digging up evidence that indicated Ricardo R. also had a knife during the fight, and admitted using it on Linares.
Atkins compared the police and District Attorney’s Office decision to zero in on her client, in spite of the Ricardo R. evidence, to national events, such as locking Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II.
“Sometimes when we are scared as a country, we make decisions we later come to regret,” she said, adding that hindsight in such situations is 20-20.
She said just because it’s legal for the District Attorney’s Office to try Juarez as an adult, doesn’t mean they should, especially if their “hands aren’t clean.”
This point is especially important, she said, “When you prosecute him as an adult for a crime that he didn’t commit.”
Atkins said Dozer essentially used two theories, both of which she believes have holes.
The first is that Juarez fatally stabbed Linares near the intersection of State and Carrillo streets, where witnesses said they saw Juarez swing a knife at the victim.
The second theory Atkins said Dozer has put forward is that Juarez may have inflicted the fatal wound in the parking lot behind Saks Fifth Avenue. One eyewitness identified Juarez as a person she saw assaulting Linares near the planter in the parking lot, while another woman could not identify him, and instead thought it was Ricardo R.
Dozer told the jury during his closing statement that while he believes the evidence clearly shows Juarez killed Linares, he said the defendant can be held liable for murder even if someone else did it.
He said the act of taking a knife to a gang fight and willfully using it on the victim, had a natural consequence: the death of Linares.
As a result, Dozer said Juarez is as culpable as any other person there. But he said that’s not the point, since none of those other people are on trial and Juarez is.
Atkins called this Dozer’s “smorgasbord” theory, and said she doesn’t believe it holds water either.
Atkins said she wondered why, if Dozer truly thought this theory was legitimate, that he didn’t whole-heartedly present it to the court first off, instead of waiting for the defense to bring up the possibility of another stabber.
“Why wasn’t he more straight forward and forthcoming about the role of Ricardo R.,” Atkins said. “I would say that by withholding this evidence from you is sort of a tacit acknowledgement that what Ricardo R. and Ricardo Juarez did were two separate things.”
She also raised questions about the ability of Juarez to fully understand the consequences of his actions.
During the two-month evidentiary portion of the trial, Atkins attempted to call a child psychologist to the stand, who would have testified about juvenile brain development. However, Judge Hill said there was no legal basis for such testimony.
Atkins brought these issues to the jury’s attention, pointing out that while the cutoff to being tried as an adult is 14 — the age her client was at the time of the stabbing — it does stipulate a child under that age cannot be tried as an adult.
For Juarez to be culpable for a crime he didn’t commit, Atkins said her client would have had to believe it reasonable that Linares was going to be killed. She said this is an unreasonable expectation given his age.
“We know [children] don’t have the ability to see how their decisions may play out in the future because of their limited ability to foresee,” Atkins said of juveniles and why they’re not sold alcohol, allowed to vote or drive. “How much experience does a 14-year-old have to draw upon?”
In addressing the gang enhancement aspect of the charges, which could greatly increase the length of a sentence if Juarez is convicted, Atkins said she feels Dozer failed to prove that the primary purpose of the Eastside gang Juarez apparently belongs to is criminal in nature.
She said simply forming gang hand signs, dressing in a certain way and hanging around with similarly dressed people is not illegal.
However, Dozer called several police witnesses who testified about the criminal nature of the Eastside gang, which is often involved in assaults.
Dozer also said text messages and other communication between Juarez and his friends the night before the fight indicates the boy planned on going to State Street to “bang,” or engage in a fight.
Atkins said this isn’t the case at all. She said Juarez might not have taken a knife to the fight had his on-and-off again girlfriend not been “disrespected” by Westside gang members earlier that same day.
And had Ricardo R. been detained at the scene, Atkins said it’s reasonable to assume many people may have identified him as the stabber.
“We don’t know about Ricardo R’s clothes,” she said. “He escaped. We don’t know how many people would have picked him out.”
She urged the jury to analyze the evidence fairly and dispassionately, and said she feels the prosecution, by not bringing to light Ricardo R’s involvement, is in stark contrast to the way the defense attempted to deal with the evidence.
“We’ve tried to come here, ladies and gentlemen, with clean hands,” she said.
Dozer will have the opportunity to rebut Atkins’ closing statements today in court. The jury could begin deliberating this afternoon.

No comments: