Four men arrested last spring on suspicion of murdering Adan Cervantes Ruiz, 23, in connection with the largest marijuana grow ever busted in Santa Barbara County history, are free men today. Horacio Sanyoto, Dimas Santoyo, Servando Cabrero, and Jose Villa-Cervantes were transported from jail to a Santa Maria courtroom on Friday, February 20, only to hear the case against them dismissed because the prosecution’s chief witness would not cooperate.
“The case was investigated thoroughly by the Sheriff’s Office and they did an excellent job, very thorough,” said Kevin Duffy, deputy district attorney. “However, the key prosecution witness was unwilling to testify truthfully. Therefore we could not ethically proceed at this time, because we could not meet the burden of proof.” The standard of proof necessary to make an arrest and file charges is lower, he noted, than the proof needed for successful prosecution.
Duffy said the uncooperative witness, whom he declined to name, was not implicated in the marijuana grow, adding that he was “on the run” for a while before police caught up with him. When they did, he made it clear he would not be much help on the stand.
At one point, Ruiz’s brother was arrested along with several others in connection with cultivating the marijuana. Investigators at the time said that they believed he was with his brother at the time of the killing and a victim, like Ruiz, of suspects seeking to steal some of the marijuana. Sheriff’s Sgt. Ross Ruth said the brother is not the recalcitrant witness, however.
Ruiz’s body was found September 17, 2008, in a sleeping bag alongside Highway 154, dead of gunshot wound to the chest. Authorities said they believed he was shot two days earlier while people were removing processed and packaged marijuana from the grow site along Highway 1 near Lompoc. Sheriff’s deputies eventually chopped down approximately 93,000 mature plants, some of them on a Spanish land grant cattle ranch owned by Jim Poett, the husband of Marianne Partridge, editor-in-chief of The Independent.
Ruth described the case as “very involved,” “very intense.” He said it took detectives as far afield as Riverside and Sacramento.