“I’ve handed down sentences like this for the last 10 years, and I’m still at a loss for why this continues to happen,” Judge Brian Hill said Tuesday as he ordered two Santa Barbara gang members to prison for 15 years to life. “We’re losing part of a generation of young Latino males.”
Michael Cardenas and Ismael Parra were convicted by a jury in March of second-degree murder for what Hill called the “vicious and unprovoked” fatal beating of 37-year-old George Ied as he walked home from work along the Milpas Street corridor in October 2010. During the course of the trial, Cardenas — known in gang circles as “Psycho Mike” for his proclivity for violence — would emerge as the ringleader of the attack, urging Parra, Parra’s younger brother Miguel, and Steven Santana to punch, kick, and stomp Ied into unconsciousness. While Ismael took the stand in his own defense, Cardenas remained silent.
On Tuesday, Cardenas’s defense attorney, Adam Pearlman, asked that sentencing be delayed one to two weeks so his client could get married. Hill, noting Cardenas would be behind bars no matter the timing, denied the request. Hill also dismissed Pearlman’s motion for a new trial. The attorney argued not enough evidence was presented to prove Cardenas displayed “implied malice,” a requirement for the second-degree murder conviction. “There was ample, ample, significant, sufficient” evidence to show the verdict was warranted, Hill responded.
Before Cardenas begins his 15 years to life sentence — meaning his first chance for parole will come after 15 years — he will first serve three years in prison for a battery that occurred just hours before the assault on Ied. In an incident caught on video, Ismael Parra punched an unidentified victim outside a liquor store with Cardenas standing nearby. Though Pearlman petitioned Hill to have the two sentences overlap, Hill — citing Cardenas’s past misdeeds and what he called his “evil character” — ordered they be completed back-to-back. In an unrelated case, Cardenas pleaded guilty in May to assault charges stemming from two violent attacks that occurred on the Eastside in November 2009. For those beatings, he’ll serve another nine years that will be added to the other two sentences.
Ismael Parra’s attorney, Michael Hanley, also filed for a new trial on Tuesday. He argued that Ismael only struck Ied on the legs, and did so just to “gain standing” within the group so they would heed his requests to end the attack. Though Hill denied the motion, he ruled that Ismael’s three-year sentence on the battery conviction be served concurrently with the 15 years to life sentence, a sentencing to contrast Cardenas’s and his heighted level of culpability in the attacks. During the trial, Ismael said on the stand that he punched the first victim himself to save the man from a worse pounding at the hands of Cardenas and Steven Santana.
After the sentencing hearing, Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer — in charge of his office’s gang unit — said it’s common for California’s parole board to deny a gang member convicted of murder the first parole request. The board will often not allow the inmate to repetition for another five years as well, he said.
Both Santana and Miguel Parra took plea deals in the Ied case — admitting to voluntary manslaughter with a gang enhancement — and face a maximum of 21 years behind bars. Santana testified against the other three in exchange for the plea bargain, and Miguel reached his after the murder case against him ended in a hung jury. They’ll each be sentenced at a later date.
Prosecutor Hans Almgren, explaining Hill’s decision was expected, said much credit for the conviction should go to responding officers and their legwork. Officers Thomas Eccles, Aaron Tudor, and Thomas Van Eyck went door to door in search of witnesses the night Ied was attacked, only to find the Parra brothers burning bloody clothing in their backyard. Developing leads from there, authorities would track down Santana and Cardenas soon after. “Without that good investigation, this case may never have been solved,” Almgren said.
Ied’s parents were unable to attend Tuesday’s sentencing — they live in Syria, which their son fled as a refugee some years ago — so his father submitted a victim’s impact statement to the court. But because he wasn’t there in person, it wasn’t read aloud. Portions of it are reproduced here:
“During our lives we go through many hardships and struggles, yet nothing prepares us for something like this. Tears and screams have done nothing to ease our pains. … Burying your own child, your flesh and blood, your heart, is worse than a thousand deaths. … He was our little brother, the treasure of the family, the baby. Can you imagine your baby snatched from your hands and there is not a damn thing you can do about it? Is that fair? His mother remembered every minute of his life and relives it each morning only to be devastated by the ending, an ending she wished would just one time change. Her life is just a wait, waiting for it all to be over and end the misery and endless pain.”