Jacob Medina, a young man who has apparently turned his life around in the years following his involvement in a 2007 gang-related stabbing, was sentenced Monday to 15 years in state prison for his role in the attack. Seventeen years old when the stabbing took place, Medina — now 20 — was not arrested for the crime until late 2009, and he pleaded no contest to the attempted-murder charge.
Since his days of troublemaking, when he was known by the gang moniker “Syko,” Medina had been attending Santa Barbara City College. He also mentored high schoolers about going to college at SBCC’s Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, which reaches out to low-income, educationally challenged students. “He was always looking to help others,” said David Morley, an SBCC counselor.
While he struggled with grades in some classes, he did receive a few As, and mentors believed the ongoing court case affected his abilities to do well. Several people who testified at Medina’s sentencing hearing said he was dedicated, modest, committed, and of mild character. “It is my opinion as someone who has studied gangs for the last five years and grew up around them,” said Dr. Victor Rios — a UCSB researcher studying Santa Barbara gang activity — on the stand, “that Jacob is in the small percentage of young people who actually show a lot of promise to better himself and be an asset to his community.”
But the Jacob Medina of 2007 was different. Starting in 2006 and over the course of the next two years, he was disruptive in school, was convicted of carrying a dangerous weapon, and escaped from Los Prietos Boys Camp.
Earlier this month, Medina heard a former gang member involved in the attack — who took a plea bargain in exchange for his testimony — talk about the night in question. A group had been hanging out at an Eastside home, and they decided to go over to the Westside, said the witness, who also testified in front of a Grand Jury about the incident. Ruben Mize and two others armed themselves with knives, and they then went to Medina’s home, where he got a hunting knife.
They traveled to the Westside and saw “someone with a shaved head and white T-shirt,” the 18-year-old witness said, and Mize asked him where all the homies were at. The victim pointed to a park, and the group began stabbing him. The witness estimated Mize stabbed the victim 10 or so times in the upper torso and upper back, and Medina stabbed the victim 10 to 15 times in the upper body.
A light went on, and three of them ran to the car, while Medina kept stabbing, said the witness, who thought the victim was dead. During his Grand Jury testimony, the witness said that Medina “was trying to kill the guy, you know … he didn’t care about what happened to him.”
Prosecutor Hans Almgren, at the sentencing hearing, presented several photos of Medina flashing gang signs and hanging out with known gang members.
The two contrasts left Judge Frank Ochoa with a difficult choice Tuesday in front of a courtroom packed with Medina supporters. The prosecution was asking for 19 years in prison. “If this court does not sentence Medina in the same way as the others, then this court has failed,” Almgren said. The defense was asking for probation with the strongest terms possible. “He’s the best messenger we have to those young people who are at risk,” defense counsel Benjamin Bycel said.
The judge acknowledged that Medina was not similarly situated as Mize, whom he had sentenced earlier in the day to 19 years in state prison for pleading to the same crime and who was involved in several other brazen attacks. And while acknowledging that Medina had made changes in his life, the judge said, “It is extremely unfortunate that the defendant did not commit himself to those changes prior to his crime.”
Ochoa then sentenced Medina to 15 years, five for the attempted murder and 10 for a gang enhancement. Medina was also ordered to register as a gang member. “I wish you hadn’t done what you did that night, but we can’t change that,” Ochoa said.
Medina, who had been out on a bail that family members had paid for, was remanded to the custody of the Sheriff’s Department and handcuffed, and the courtroom was cleared.