It’s been two-and-a-half years since 60-year-old Frank Tacadena’s life was taken by a single gunshot wound to the neck while he sat in his car next to his wife in the afternoon of September 13, 2006.
But Monday, Luis Sosa was found guilty by a Santa Barbara jury of first degree murder and two special allegations for using a firearm. Sosa faces between 50 years and life in prison for the offense. He had been facing the possibility of life without parole, but the jury found untrue a special circumstance that would have enhanced his already steep sentence. Sosa will be sentenced April 22.
For the family of Frank Tacadena, it is the end to a long ordeal. It started in the hours after the shooting, when police believed those responsible had holed up in a nearby apartment. But after several hours, the SWAT team entered, only to realize that the suspects had escaped. One was caught the next day. The other, Sosa, remained on the loose for about a month before being caught in St. Louis.
As Sosa’s case progressed toward a trial date of July 2008, another case being prosecuted by Senior Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer took precedence because the defendant, Ricardo Juarez, refused to waive time. That forced the Juarez case ahead of Sosa’s, despite the fact Juarez’s crime took place six months after Tacadena’s murder. And so Sosa’s trial was continued, and finally got underway last month. “That’s too much for a family that’s grieving,” said Tacadena’s son-also named Frank-on Monday, after the verdict. Dozer agreed. “It’s a long time to carry the weight of a loved one,” he said.
Despite Monday’s verdict, there is little respite for Dozer or Tacadena’s family, as the other man accused of murder in this case, Johnny Lopez, is headed toward trial and will have a court appearance Wednesday. Lopez, a childhood friend to Sosa and fellow member of the Ventura Avenue Gang, testified on the stand against him. Dozer granted Lopez use immunity, meaning what he said on the stand couldn’t be used against him in any of his own court proceedings. Lopez could be facing bigger problems than prison time however, as talking to authorities about fellow gang members can often result in repercussions. An even bigger taboo is talking about La Eme, the Mexican Mafia, on the stand. Lopez did just this, calling himself a soldier for the criminal enterprise.
Doug Hayes, Sosa’s attorney, tried to convince the jury of six men and six women that it was in fact Lopez who had shot and killed Tacadena. After all, Lopez testified on the stand that he was the owner of the gun used to shoot Tacadena, and Lopez was the one who had a previous, long-standing feud with Tacadena.
But the jurors concluded that Sosa had pulled the trigger. Having just been released from Santa Barbara County Jail the morning of September 13, 2006, Sosa had spent the day at Lopez’s apartment drinking with his friend.
Kathy Tacadena, the victim’s wife, had been in the car during the shooting on West Islay Street and later positively identified Sosa’s voice as belonging to the man who had killed her husband. She said Sosa had asked her husband if he had a problem with “my homie,” to which Tacadena had replied, “What’s it to you? Fuck Johnny and fuck you too.” That, Dozer said, had prompted Sosa to pull out a gun and fire one shot. Tacadena had tried to drive away, but stopped a block later, eventually succumbing to his injuries. Sosa’s uncle also testified that Sosa had told him later he had committed the crime.
Jurors described a careful deliberations process in which the 12 mulled over the case for a day and a half before arriving at a verdict. Jurors, some complimentary of others for having open minds to what others said, indicated there was much discussion about who the shooter was. Some initially had problems with the fact that no witness had identified Sosa by description. But, as one juror put it, “People came around to be willing to put the picture together as a whole.”
The jurors were also very careful to be sure that first degree murder had been committed, they said. Going into the weekend after one day of deliberating, a few of them were leaning toward second degree murder, and this morning there was still a split on the difference the greater charge - which indicates that a murder was premeditated and willful - and the lesser one - which indicates that a murder is intentional but not premeditated, planned or committed in a heat of passion. “People wanted to it to be very absolute,” one juror said.
Dozer said he was gratified by the jury’s decision, saying Sosa was “clearly guilty of murder” and “shot him in a way that Frank Tacadena never knew what was going to occur.”