Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Clifford Anderson ruled Thursday that the four co-defendants charged in the 2007 murder of Lorenzo Carachure would face retrial together, denying defense motions to have their cases severed from one another.
Defense attorneys for Ricardo Nava, Bryan Medinilla, and Raul Diaz Jr. had argued that their clients would be deprived a fair and impartial jury during their retrial if they remained co-defendants with Ruben Mize. In furtherance of their claims, the attorneys pointed to post-trial interviews conducted with two of the jurors, which purportedly showed that some improper deliberation had taken place.
During the first trial – which ended with a hung jury – Mize came out looking as the most culpable of the four co-defendants. By retrying the cases separately, defense attorneys for Nava, Medinilla, and Diaz Jr. had hoped that the most damning of the evidence implicating Mize – a rap song he performed and a police informant’s recording of him admitting involvement - would not be unfairly used to influence the cases against their clients as well.
According to prosecutor Hans Almgren, the fear that evidence against one defendant would improperly “cross-contaminate” the cases of the others had been overstated. He asserted that the recordings could easily be redacted to meet the court’s evidentiary standards and that, in conjunction with appropriate juror instruction, there was no reason to believe that all four could not receive a fair retrial. “You cannot superimpose one jury’s actions onto another,” he said. Almgren also pointed out that his office had done its own post-trial interviews in which at least one of the jurors claimed that they had had no issues compartmentalizing evidence when instructed.
Ultimately, Anderson decided that defense arguments fell short in attempting to show that the Mize tapes – among other things - would unfairly bias a jury against the other co-defendants. In doing so, he pointed to the abundance of additional evidence – testimony from multiple witnesses – that redundantly served to place all four defendants at the scene of the crime. And while he acknowledged that some of the jurors may have improperly deliberated during the first trial, he insinuated that he did not believe that such a problem would necessarily become an issue the second time around.
Thursday’s decision has cleared the way for hearings in preparation for the retrial- to begin as early as next week. In addition, Anderson may have to consider a motion put forward by Mize to have his defense counsel replaced. Mize’s attorney, Joe Allen, was not present during Thursday’s proceedings.