During Thursday’s preliminary hearing of Adrian Robles — the 21-year-old alleged gang member who purportedly killed Robert Simpson near Hendry’s Beach earlier this year — witnesses, responding officers, and detectives recounted the circumstances surrounding the April 15 murder, including the moments leading up to the stabbing, the confrontation itself, and the minutes and days afterward.
The purpose of the hearing, which continued on Friday in Judge Hill’s courtroom, is to determine whether there is enough evidence to go forward with the case against Robles. He’s facing a murder charge with special gang-related circumstances, and has pled not guilty to all allegations. Rudy Gallegos, Robles’s childhood friend and an admitted former member of the Westside Projects gang (which Robles is also accused of being a member of), took the stand on Thursday and spoke about his involvement in the incident. Gallegos, 21, is not facing any charges, though police arrested him for the crime early on then let him go.
Vanessa Ochoa, 17 years old at the time of the murder and similarly placed at the scene, testified as well, but 19-year-old Brittany Weiler was not present. Weiler recently pled no contest to an accessory to murder charge, and is accused of driving herself and the other three away from Hendry’s Beach immediately after the stabbing. Senior Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer is prosecuting the case and attorney Steve Balash is representing Robles.
The day of April 15 began, recounted Gallegos, with him, Robles, Weiler, and Ochoa driving around to different beaches, buying a couple of 18-packs of beer along the way. He said they stopped at either Leadbetter or Shoreline beaches, or both, and eventually ended up at Hendry’s. (Much of Gallegos’s testimony was riddled with inconsistencies and confusion as he not only contradicted himself over the course of Thursday’s hearing, but also changed his story at times from the statement he gave detectives when he was arrested.)
According to Gallegos — who has the letter “P” tattooed on his left cheek to represent the Westside Projects gang — the four were sitting on a bench in the grassy park area at Hendry’s, drinking beers, hanging out, and minding their own business. However, he soon became aware of an altercation between Robles and, as he described them, “two white guys.” The two men had allegedly prevented Robles from leaving the public restroom, causing one of the girls to call out to Gallegos for help.
Gallegos, during the earlier portion of his testimony, said he tried to diffuse the situation by calming everyone down. Later on, though, he claimed that after saying to the two men, “What the fuck? Why won’t you let him out of the bathroom?” one them — eventually identified as Simpson — called him a bitch. Gallegos, he said, responded with, “Fuck you. You’re the bitch,” and they exchanged more heated words.
The confrontation then became physical, relayed Gallegos, as he and Simpson “squared off” and began throwing punches on the grass near the bathroom. Gallegos wound up knocking Simpson down with a couple of blows and started grappling with him on the ground. Simpson, though, was able to get the upper hand and “did some Jackie Chan move and got me on my back,” said Gallegos, who said he nevertheless kept punching from the ground. The fight ended soon after, said Gallegos, when Simpson released him and said something along the lines of, “Old school. It’s over, it’s over.”
He and Gallegos then stood up, shook hands, and went their separate ways, according to Gallegos. From his standpoint, he said, the issue was over and he walked back over to the picnic table area alone, lying down on the grass and staring at the sky for awhile in an exhausted state. It was 15-20 minutes later, he said, (though later on claiming only 2-3 minutes had passed) before he looked up and noticed that Adrian Robles, accompanied by Weiler and Ochoa, was loudly arguing with Simpson near the parking lot. Simpson would be stabbed moments later, though exactly how and in what fashion is still not clear.
Vanessa Ochoa relayed a somewhat similar chain of events to Judge Hill and the courtroom during her time on the stand, saying she, Gallegos, Weiler, and Robles (whom she all identified by first name) were sitting on the bench, drinking Tecate, smoking marijuana, and “just talking.” She claimed there were no problems between the crowds that she was aware of. “We were all getting along,” she said.
Ochoa said she wasn’t sure why any fighting started in the first place, but “knew there was an altercation” and saw Gallegos and Simpson shoving each other. She claimed she was already on her way to Weiler’s car to leave with Robles and Weiler, and didn’t witness the stabbing herself. In fact, she said, she didn’t know there had been a stabbing until she saw it on the news the next morning. In an earlier interview with detectives, she said someone had told her to grab the beer because a fight was breaking out and they might have to leave soon.
Robles was with her and Weiler the whole time they walked to and got into the car, she said, but couldn’t say where Gallegos was. He eventually got in the car, she relayed, and they dropped him off a short time later as well as Robles. Claiming to not have seen a knife or blood anywhere on or in the car, Ochoa also initially refused to tell detectives the names of the people she was with.
A very different version of the circumstances leading up to the initial fight between Gallegos and Simpson near the bathroom was offered by a witness interviewed by Sheriff’s Detective Jason Bosma. According to the witness, whose statement was read aloud in court by Bosma, he and a friend had arrived at Hendry’s Beach to check out the surf. They noticed four “gang-type” people hanging out, remarking on their “gang-type” clothing.
When the witness and his friend walked by the group, Bosma said, Robles and Gallegos starting calling them “Spencer” and other “white names” while the girls snickered. At one point either Robles or Gallegos walked up to the witness’s friend and knocked the hat off of his head. When asked what their problem was, the witness said Gallegos responded, “We’re up to no good and looking for trouble.” Around 10-15 minutes passed before Simpson — then accompanied by the witness’s friend — and Gallegos started brawling, read Bosma.
While Gallegos, from his purported vantage point around 70 feet away, said he saw Robles throw a single “punch” at Simpson as he directly faced him, the witness said Robles approached Simpson from the side and hit him. “It was just like a sneak attack,” read Bosma, explaining Simpson didn’t raise his hands in defense or try to avoid the blow. Furthermore, the witness alleged, Gallegos was actually right in the midst of the action and could have easily seen what happened.
The witness described Robles as doing the stabbing — identifying him as the subject without the tattoo on his face — but had a hard time picking him out of a photo lineup. When shown a group of pictures, Bosma said, the witness picked out the wrong man with “30-35 percent certainty.”
As soon as Gallegos saw Robles strike Simpson — which, it appears, was in fact the single and lethal stab to Simpson’s neck — he said he began walking away from the area, but not before hearing Simpson scream and noticing blood on Simpson’s head and neck area. According to Gallegos, Robles, Weiler, and Ochoa immediately fled into the parking lot, and he called his mom to pick him up, but she didn’t answer. He said he didn’t know Simpson had been stabbed and hadn’t seen Robles with a knife at any point prior in the day.
As he exited the park and began walking along Cliff Drive, relayed Gallegos, Weiler pulled up next to him and he got into her car. No one spoke of the incident, he said, though Robles reportedly held up what he said was a sharp instrument of some kind with what appeared to be blood on it. (Gallegos waffled on this disputed fact a number of times, at first claiming he didn’t see the object in the car, then saying he saw it lying in the front passenger’s seat where Robles was sitting, then saying he saw Robles briefly show it off in the car. He never explicitly called it a knife, and said a number of times it was a dark, sharp object with a glistening substance on it that was hard to make out because it was dark in the car at the time.)
Once Gallegos caught wind — one way or another — that something serious had happened, he said he demanded that Weiler let him out of the car by cursing and yelling at her. She eventually obliged, dropping him off somewhere in the Mesa 10-20 minutes later where he was picked up by his mom. Gallegos said he wanted nothing to do with what occurred. “It didn’t need to be taken that far,” he said.
Gallegos admitted in court that during his first round of interviews with detectives he had lied about his involvement in the incident. At first claiming he went to Hendry’s Beach to study his Bible, Gallegos said he was reticent to speak openly because he didn’t want to name his involved friends and ruin his reputation on the street. “It just came out,” he said in reference to his initial claim that he didn’t know Weiler.
After detectives let him sit and stew in the interrogation room, however, Gallegos said he had a conversation with God that convinced him to tell the truth. Even though God, he said, had told him to do the right thing and tell the truth ever since the incident occurred, it took him awhile to listen. “Fuck it,” he remembered thinking to himself, “I’m tired of this lifestyle, ya know?” Gallegos eventually relayed to detectives that Robles had in fact stabbed Simpson. “The homie booked the dude and ran,” he said, explaining “booked” means stabbed.
He reportedly told detectives that while he was fighting with Simpson, Robles had been just “standing around like a little girl” even though it was “his problem to begin with.” When asked point blank by prosecutor Hilary Dozer who had stabbed Simpson, Gallegos responded: “It was Adrian, sir.”
Earlier in the hearing, Santa Barbara police officer Brian Larson testified that on the night of April 15 he was initially dispatched to a fight. He soon learned, he said, that it was in fact a stabbing, so he “went Code 3,” meaning he drove to the scene with his lights and sirens on. Larson said he was flagged down by a witness on Cliff Drive who told him she saw the suspects flee in a white, four-door Nissan Altima.
That car would later be identified as Weiler’s. When authorities tracked the car down at her house around five hours later, they noticed the acronym WST — which stands for Westside Tiny Locos, another subset of the Westside gang — written in the dust on her windshield. Detective Michael Scherbarth said he contacted Weiler’s mother, Cheryl, in order to confirm that Brittany in fact knew Gallegos. He learned the two used to be neighbors.
Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Harris relayed to the court that he responded to the scene within 3-5 minutes of being called, and talked to a woman who had blood on her hands and face. She told him there had been a fight between her friend and a Hispanic male — Harris confirmed during his testimony that the witness angrily said her friend had a fight with a “little fucking Mexican” — and was so distraught she felt like she was going to throw up.
In the following days, detectives interviewed a number of witnesses who described the two male suspects as young Hispanic men — one with a tattoo on his face, the other with tattoos on his neck — though many had a hard time picking them out of lineups. One witness, Dorothy Childress, was able to identify Robles during a physical lineup as the person who stabbed Simpson, but couldn’t pick him out of a photo lineup later on. She described the stabber as the suspect with spider tattoos on his neck and head.
The day ended with Detective Jarrett Morris, an expert on criminal street gangs, taking the stand. He ran through his training and qualifications, briefly touching on his knowledge of Westside gangs and their activities.
Additional reporting by Chris Meagher.