After a nearly six-week trial — but after only a few hours of deliberation — a Santa Barbara jury found Adrian Robles guilty of first degree murder for the stabbing death of Robert Simpson in April 2010 at Hendry’s Beach. He’ll be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole at a future hearing.
Robles, dressed in a black suit with a red tie and wearing his long hair in a ponytail that partially covered the tattoos that helped identify him, sat stoically as the verdict was read. His mother, who had been present for most of the trial, burst into tears behind him. Simpson’s mother hadn’t yet arrived from her Santa Ynez home and missed the reading.
The judgment came after dozens of witnesses took the stand to tell their versions of what happened that day. Some were high at the time, some were drunk, a few were involved, others weren’t. Some witnesses saw exactly what happened, while others just caught glimpses of the incident.
But the jurors — who deliberated briefly Friday afternoon and for a few hours Monday morning — pieced together the testimony, deciding that Robles stabbed Simpson once in the neck, only a minute or two after Simpson fought Robles’s friend Rudy Gallegos. “From a position of advantage, he intended and did make a surprise attack on Mr. Simpson,” prosecutor Hilary Dozer told the jury during closing arguments.
Gallegos’s testimony was critical to the prosecution’s case. After the verdict, Dozer called Gallegos an “indispensable part of the prosecution of this case. … He followed through on his commitment from the beginning with law enforcement,” Dozer said. “Rudy Gallegos is getting on with his life, and I wish him well.”
A self-described former gang member, Gallegos told the jury how, following a disagreement, he and Simpson fought in the grassy area near the Hendry’s Beach parking lot. Simpson won the fight and broke it off. The two men stood up, shook hands, and went their separate ways, Gallegos said. Following that, Robles came up from behind and stabbed Simpson as he walked off, Gallegos said. Dozer said the gang mentality forced Robles to respond to Simpson to gain respect for the gang.
In his closing arguments Friday, Dozer told the jurors Gallegos had an internal dilemma, going back and forth between his allegiance to the gang, his allegiance to his friend, and doing the right thing. But eventually he came around, Dozer said, and did something “totally, totally against the gang creed,” not only talking to authorities but also testifying in court.
Defense attorney Steve Balash also said Gallegos’s testimony was central to the case. “Throw out Gallegos’s testimony, you really don’t have much of a case at all,” Balash said. Maybe his client did do the crime, Balash said, but there were too many unknowns. “My concern is to protect his rights,” he said.
Several witnesses corroborated at least parts of Gallegos’s testimony. Some told the jury they couldn’t remember who the stabber was but could say it was one of two Hispanic men in the grassy area that day. More than one witness told the jury that the man who stabbed Simpson was not the same person who had fought him earlier.
Some described “spiderweb tattoos” and the suspect running off with two girls. Robles has spiderweb-like tattoos on his neck and head, and witness testimony indicated it was likely Robles, not Gallegos, who ran away with the two girls. Gallegos was picked up in the car minutes later.
Post-verdict, the jurors were escorted out of the courtroom before the audience was allowed to leave, and none were available for comment. But two alternate jurors, who weren’t present for the deliberation, were in the audience for the reading of the verdict. While one said he would’ve reached the same conclusion as the jury, the other said there was a lot of “Swiss cheesy” evidence. They both found portions of Gallegos’s testimony trustworthy but other parts of of it not as believable. However, as one of them pointed out, “There was nobody that really refuted what Rudy Gallegos said.”
Perhaps most damning was evidence of blood found on the hood of getaway driver Brittany Weiler’s vehicle, in close proximity to a handprint of Robles. Dozer said there was no explanation how the victim’s blood could get on the car that close to the palm print, he said, calling it the “calling card of the defendant.”
Dozer said there was very compelling evidence that the defendant was the murderer. “I was confident they’d come to the correct decision,” he said. “As the evidence was presented to them, it became clearer and clearer who the killer was.”
Over the weeks, jurors heard from dozens of witnesses, ranging from Simpson’s friends who saw the stabbing and events leading up to it, to doctors, to police officers.
Missing from the witness stand were Vanessa Ochoa and Brittany Weiler, the two women who rode in the getaway vehicle with Robles and Gallegos. Both women were charged with crimes. Ochoa’s case was resolved in juvenile court, while Weiler pleaded guilty to accessory to murder after the fact. She received probation.
Defense attorney Steve Balash questioned how quickly the jury came to their conclusion. “A verdict this quick?” he asked. “They couldn’t have reviewed very much of the evidence.”
He suggested perhaps the upcoming holidays might have led to a hasty decision. He said he would be going back to review the evidence and will be filing a motion for a new trial.
During closing arguments, Balash said conflicting testimony from witnesses were too much to overcome to find a guilty verdict. “This case is bound to leave you in a sense of frustration,” he said, adding that there would have to be a lot of evidence ignored for the case to have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
In addition to the murder charge, which carries with it gang and weapon enhancements, Robles was found guilty of participating in a criminal street gang.