The accusations are all the same: murder with a gang enhancement and two counts of attempted murder with a gang enhancement. The defendants are all the same: 19-year-olds Ruben Mize and Bryan Medinilla, and 20-year-olds Ricardo Nava and Raul Diaz Jr. The key witnesses are basically all the same as well.
All that has changed since May 25, 2010, when prosecutor Hans Almgren and his four defense attorney counterparts gave their opening statements in the original trial, are the faces of the 12 members of the Santa Barbara community sitting in the jury box who will decide the fate of the quartet in the stabbing death of 16-year-old Lorenzo Carachure on July 16, 2007.
Monday morning and early afternoon, the new jury heard for the first time the allegations against the four, and the defense against those allegations. The prosecution’s story remained unchanged from the first trial last summer, which ended in a mistrial. Almgren said that the four, armed with knives and a carjack, went looking for Westsiders that night. Days before Carachure and three others were attacked, so the teen was walking home in a group with his cousin Noe Carachure and their friend, Rogelio Hernandez. All three were attacked on San Pascual Street, and all three were stabbed. While the other two managed to escape, Carachure was hit first by the carjack, then stabbed in the neck and stomach, Almgren said. He died from the knife wounds.
Expected to testify are Emilio Mora and Carlos Diaz, both at the scene when Carachure died, and Robert Martinez, older brother to Ruben Mize. Christopher Diaz – a cousin of Mize and former gang member who became a confidential informant for authorities, wearing a wire to capture conversations – will also testify. Martinez, Carlos Diaz, and Mora – all facing prison time for their connection with the crime – are still awaiting sentencing in their cases. Their plea deals are contingent on their testimony against the quartet. Christopher Diaz, meanwhile, has since picked up and moved with his family to an undisclosed location where he now lives, having started a new life, initially under a protection program but now on his own. All except Carlos Diaz are former gang members.
Another former gang member, Octavio Marin, has turned against his fellow gang members, and agreed to testify, as he was the first to take the stand Monday. He awaits sentencing on federal charges, and came forward with information after Mize et al.’s first trial.
Almgren has his work cut out for him in proving the people’s case. It’s always more difficult the second time around, as defense attorneys are now armed with transcripts of witness testimony to attack a witness’s credibility should their statements not stack up against previous statements made under oath.
And defense attorneys, as they did last trial, quickly went on offense in their opening statements, attacking the credibility of the witnesses to come. James Crowder, representing Medinilla, said Christopher Diaz has received in excess of $278,000 for cooperating with authorities. He only met Medinilla once, Crowder said, and that’s when he said he heard Medinilla talk of “sticking” Carachure in the stomach. But it was not recorded, Crowder said. “How much is truth,” asked Mize’s attorney Joseph Allen of the testimony of the former gang members, “and how much is what the prosecutors wanted to hear?”
Crowder told the jury that the only credible witnesses (civilians who saw the scrum from afar) say they only saw one person commit the stabbing. All other testimony must be discounted because of agendas, he said, in agreement with other attorneys. Echoed Neil Levinson, attorney for Nava: “Each witness has a motive to lie.”
The evidence presented at the first trial was certainly most damning against Mize, who at trial saw both his older brother Robert Martinez and his cousin Christopher Diaz testify against him. His cousin, Diaz, working in conjunction with local police, wore a wire when hanging out with Mize and company, and captured Mize admitting to attacking Carachure that night. As well, the prosecution is armed with several gangster rap songs where Mize can be heard singing about fantasies of killing people. “I can’t wait till the day that I take someone’s life,” he sings in one song. Nava’s attorney, Neil Levinson, told the jury they had to separate the evidence against Mize from the evidence against the others. “You’re going to hear a lot of evidence about Ruben Mize and you will be tempted to connect what you hear about him with the other defendants,” he said.
As well, in order to secure a conviction of first degree murder, Almgren will have to prove the four intended to kill when they attacked the group. The previous jury ultimately was divided as to the first degree murder charge and two attempted murder charges Mize and three others – Ricardo Nava, Raul Diaz and Bryan Medinilla – were facing, and a judge declared a mistrial. Jury members indicated later that had they been allowed to consider second degree murder against Mize, they would have convicted.
In his opening statements Sam Eaton, attorney for Diaz, said that there was indeed a gang fight, but it wasn’t premeditated. Eaton said that in gang fights where knives were involved, the purpose was to wound, not kill. “You have to determine intent,” he said.
Regardless of what happens in this trial, Mize, who turned just 19 years old on Nov. 21, is going away for at least 34 years. In December, he pleaded no contest to an attempted murder charge from 2007, and he will be sentenced to 19 years in prison on that charge. And it was in the first trial which Mize was also found guilty a separate attempted murder charge (in addition to the murder and two attempted murder charges which all four defendants faced) for which he will receive 15 years to life in prison.
Ricardo Nava is already in the midst of a 19 year prison sentence after pleading guilty to attempted murder with a gang enhancement as part of a plea deal in January 2010 in connection with a 2007 attack on a Westsider.