Thursday, October 16, 2008

Juarez found guilty of voluntary manslaughter


Fifteen-year-old Ricardo “Ricky” Juarez showed little emotion yesterday in Superior Court when a Santa Barbara County jury found the boy guilty of voluntary manslaughter in connection to the stabbing death of another boy during a 2007 gang brawl.
With several members of his family sitting in the audience, Juarez, dressed in a short-sleeve blue striped shirt and khaki pants, peered straight ahead, taking occasional glances back at the audience and toward his attorneys.

As the court clerk read the verdict, there was no noticeable reaction from Juarez, his attorney’s or the crowd.
It was a verdict that fell short of what Senior Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer, the prosecutor, had sought. And it also was not what Juarez’s legal counsel, Deputy Public Defender Karen Atkins, had hoped for.
But it was the finale of 19 months of hearings since Juarez was charged with murdering 15-year-old Luis Angel Linares during a March 14, 2007, downtown gang melee.
The slain boy’s uncle, Salvadore Linares, said he felt the evidence speaks for itself, and that his nephew was murdered.
“It’s not what we expected,” he said. “It’s a loss of a life.”
While Atkins told the jury she felt her client was guilty of assault with a deadly weapon, and insisted another boy, referred to in court as Ricardo R., killed Linares, she was pleased the jury did not believe Juarez is a murderer.
“I’m glad they reached a verdict,” she said. “I’m glad they didn’t think my client was guilty of murder and we’ll go from here.”
Atkins said she would likely file a motion for a “fitness” hearing, which would take place in order to get her client retried as a juvenile.
The defender said she is most disappointed by the District Attorney’s insistence that Juarez, who was 14 at the time of the stabbing, be tried as an adult.
While Dozer said he accepts the jury’s decision, he reestablished his belief that Juarez was guilty of murder.
“I’m always supportive of a jury’s findings because they listened to the evidence,” he said. But “I believe, as I always believed, that it was murder.”
Murder or not, Dozer said he hopes the verdict, which carries a maximum sentence of 22 years behind bars, sends a message that gang violence will not be tolerated in Santa Barbara.
“I may think this case was a murder, but I’m satisfied Juarez has responsibility,” he said. “That message really needs to be heard on the East and Westside because this is just the beginning.”
Juarez was also found guilty of committing the crime to benefit a criminal street gang, an offense that carries a mandatory sentence of 10 years. The jury also determined Juarez personally assaulted the victim with a knife, which could tack on another year to a sentence.
The stabbing rocked Santa Barbara and, in ways, the city continues to reel as gang violence has persisted with the killings of two other boys.
“I think the community suffered something from it,” Dozer said the March 14 killing. “I think it was a wake-up call for the community that we need to take gangs seriously.”
Much of the shock around the March 14 brawl had to do with the brazen nature of the fight.
Witnesses described as many as 100 gang members from Santa Barbara’s East and West sides clashing in the intersection of State and Carrillo streets just after 1 p.m.
A key civilian witness testified during the trial that he saw Juarez in the middle of the fight, swinging a black knife at Linares.
A black 12-inch knife recovered from a garbage can near the scene of the fight contained the victim’s blood on the blade and Juarez’s DNA on the handle.
Linares sustained eight knife wounds, one of which was fatal. The victim, who was a known Westside gang associate, collapsed in a planter behind Saks Fifth Avenue and died.
To bolster the gang allegations against Juarez, Dozer, through the course of the two-month trial, showed pictures of Juarez posing with friends, flashing hand signs associated with the Eastside “Traviesos” gang.
Juarez also had a gang moniker, “Lil’ Theft,” which was apparently given to him by fellow gang members.
A jury member told Dozer in the courthouse hallway she felt it obvious Juarez belonged to the Eastside gang.
“How could you not?” the juror asked. “It was so clear.”
As the physical evidence in the case mounted, Dozer said the most significant evidence in his mind was Juarez’s own statement.
In a police interrogation, Juarez admitted to swinging the knife at Linares. While Juarez was not specific in this interview about his actions, he elaborated later while talking with a friend in a police interrogation room.
In what became known as the “whisper tape,” Juarez could be heard telling his friend, who was also arrested in connection with the fight, that he “killed someone.” Juarez then describes how he repeatedly stabbed Linares and saw blood come from his mouth.
“I was just sticking him and that fool’s all like, he’s all like f***in’ bleeding from his mouth. That’s all, that’s all I remember,” Juarez says in the tape.
However, Atkins told the jury in her closing statements that none of Juarez’s statements or the physical evidence wiped away the involvement of Ricardo R., another Eastside “Traviesos” gang member called “Stomper” by fellow gang members.
Atkins showed the jury that gloves worn by Ricardo R. during the fight were found to contain Linares’ blood.
According to messages on pages, posted by young people involved with the fight, Ricardo R. admitted to stabbing and killing Linares.
In fact, Ricardo R. pleaded guilty in juvenile court to assaulting Linares with a knife, a fact Superior Court Judge Brian Hill told the jury they could consider during their deliberations.
Dozer said yesterday that none of Ricardo R’s actions on March 14 erase what Juarez did.
“Clearly there was evidence presented in this case that Ricardo R. was involved in a gang assault and that to some extent he committed an assault with a deadly weapon on the victim,” he said. “It didn’t take away from the level of responsibility from this defendant in the killing of Luis Angel Linares.”
A female jury member who asked that her name not be printed, said she felt the jury deliberated in a fashion that was focused on Juarez, not Ricardo R. She also said the evidence, in particular Juarez’s words in the whisper tape and the police interrogation, were telling.
“The evidence was compelling,” she said. “It was clear. That’s the truth of it.”
However, when asked if she felt the jury arrived at the correct verdict, she said without hesitation, “no.”
The woman said all but two jurors were stuck between finding Juarez guilty of either first or second-degree murder. But she said two jurors wouldn’t budge in their belief that Juarez was guilty of no more than assault with a deadly weapon.
“They had to come up and we had to come down,” the juror said.
After speaking with jury members, Dozer said: “It appears the verdict was a compromise verdict.”
Jury foreman Johnny Fincioen declined to discuss the particulars of the deliberations, but said the jury followed the evidence.
“We followed the law and stayed within the law and the evidence and that’s it,” he said.
Santa Barbara Police Det. Mike Brown, the chief investigator in the case, said the verdict wasn’t what he wanted to see.
“I think it’s murder,” he said.
When asked if he felt there was not enough evidence to charge Ricardo R. with murder, Brown said he didn’t think so, but even then, it’s the District Attorney’s decision on how to charge. And even if they had opted to charge that boy with murder, he was 13 at the time and couldn’t be tried in adult court.
“Regardless of how we would have done it, he wouldn’t have been here,” Brown said.
If there is any silver lining to the case, Dozer said it might have come from a juvenile witness who testified without asking for immunity, which the prosecutor granted to as many as eight other young witnesses.
Dozer credited the witness for his lack of fear and willingness to cooperate on the stand, which could not be said of countless other witnesses who are involved with local gangs.
The prosecutor, who has focused almost exclusively on gang crime since the early 1990s, said the boy appears to be on the right track, and that’s “a small victory of this case.”
“We may not win the battle all the time, but if you have on individual who’s not ganged-up anymore, that’s important,” he said. “That’s big because we can only do it one kid at a time.”
A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 30, where attorneys will discuss sentencing issues. Atkins said she doesn’t expect Juarez will be sentenced until December.

Daily Sound reporter Eric Lindberg contributed to this story.

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