On Thursday at the murder trial of Ricardo Juarez, the teen accused of murdering teen Luis Angel Linares in a March 2007 gang brawl, defense co-counsel Jennifer Archer began her cross-examination of the prosecution’s final witness, Detective Mark Vierra, by questioning the basis for his opinion that the crime was motivated by gang involvement.
Vierra, who testified that he was brought in by the prosecution “to establish gang enhancements,” explained that, in his opinion, Santa Barbara’s Eastside gang qualified as a criminal street gang under the STEP Act (the California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act). He said he drew this conclusion from six binders of police reports on incidents involving alleged Eastside gang members that had taken place in the year preceding the Linares murder on March 14, 2007.
Archer reiterated that, in order to qualify as a criminal street gang under the STEP Act, the group of three or more people must have demonstrated crime as its primary activity. According to the body of information in Vierra’s binders, the Eastside gang reportedly committed 10 incidents of assault and 12 of misdemeanor or graffiti. Archer pointed out that this information makes it seem that the graffiti or misdemeanors - activities that don’t qualify a group as a gang under the STEP Act - constitute the majority of the crimes the Eastside gang reportedly commit, not assault. Vierra, however, explained that he determined that there were additional counts of assault, making it the primary activity.
The defense went on to point out that, based on the information collected by Vierra, if there were in fact 200 members or affiliates in the Eastside gang (the estimate that Vierra has offered several times in court) and only 22 STEP Act-qualified felonies detailed in the binders, only one-tenth of the alleged gang members were committing crimes. Archer said that gang members and affiliates from the Eastside are most frequently documented by patrolmen as just “hanging out.”
Among the reports collected in Vierra’s binders were some that documented incidents involving Linares. In one report, Linares was the victim of assault, but in another he was in possession of a weapon, which in Vierra’s opinion meant that Linares “was starting to have an association with the Westside gang.”
In his redirect, prosecutor Hilary Dozer pointed out that victims sometimes do not report gang-related crimes for various reasons, including intimidation by gangs, so the number of reports in Vierra’s binders is probably a conservative estimate of the number of crimes involving the Eastside gang. Dozer also pointed out that while it is often necessary to have a pattern of criminal acts to be accepted into a gang, “a singular, substantial event could do it” - one like the hypothetical version of the events culminating in the murder of Linares on March 14 described by Dozer.
Before dismissing the jury, Dozer read a stipulation detailing the results of the DNA tests that, among other things, indicated the DNA in the blood on the blade of the suspected murder weapon belonged to Luis Linares. Also, Ricardo Juarez’s DNA was on the handle. Linares’s DNA was in the blood trail on Carrillo Street. Cuttings from Juarez’s shoes had both his and the victim’s DNA on them.
Court will reconvene at 10 a.m. today when the defense will begin calling witnesses.
Caitlin Crandell is an Independent intern.