A week after he heard one of his former friends, Steven Santana, testify against him, Ismael Parra — on trial for the murder of George Ied — took the stand to say that it was actually Santana and codefendant Michael Cardenas who were the main aggressors in the deadly assault.
While Ismael, dressed in a tie and becoming emotional on the stand over the course of his day-and-a-half of testimony, did admit to hitting Ied “three, five, maybe even nine” times, he downplayed his involvement and said he struck the victim in the knee and shin area. He also downplayed the involvement of his brother, Miguel Parra.
If convicted of the murder, the Parra brothers and Cardenas could go to prison for the rest of their lives. Santana took a plea deal. In exchange for his testimony, he pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and could be sentenced to time served, a maximum 21 years in state prison, or somewhere in between. He told the jury last week that all four of them struck Ied several times, and he admitted to lying to officers on several occasions in interviews following the incident.
Like Santana, Ismael admitted to lying in earlier interviews with police, making the case and whom to believe even more complicated for members of the jury, who could begin deliberations as early as the end of the week.
Ismael — a father of two — said he wasn’t honest at first about what happened that night, because he was scared about retaliation against his family. He detailed how, as a teenager, he was always surrounded by Eastside gang members and was encouraged to join several times. He never became a member, he said, but classified himself as an associate.
Ismael told the jury he got a job at Vons after he found out his girlfriend was pregnant, and in 2006, using money he had saved, he bought a condo in Santa Paula. He lived there for two years; however, after 10 months, finances became difficult, so he started dealing drugs. He sold to many gang members, including Eastsiders, Westsiders, and those in Carpinteria and Goleta. He was arrested during Operation Gator Roll in October 2008 and released from federal prison just weeks before Ied’s death.
Ismael said that on the night of the incident, he was arguing with his brother Miguel in their driveway after several hours of heavy drinking when an altercation involving Santana and Cardenas broke out across the street. He saw Santana kicking a man in the head and Cardenas also punching him. “It wasn’t right what they were doing,” he said. At one point in his testimony, Ismael called the attack on Ied “torture.”
He ran over with his brother, Ismael said, and because of his intoxication, tripped and fell over Ied. Ismael said he punched the man because he “had to look like I was with them, not against them,” but quickly cut off the attack.
Sam Eaton, counsel for Miguel, focused on his client’s actions — as told by Ismael — which seemed to indicate Miguel was actually working as a peacemaker that night. First, Ismael said, Miguel confronted him about an earlier altercation between Ismael and another man at the Mi Fiesta store on Milpas, where a camera captured Ismael punching the man. Ismael said he did so to prevent the situation from getting any worse, so Santana and Cardenas wouldn’t take matters into their own hands. “That’s not you; you changed,” Ismael said Miguel told him.
Then, later, Ismael said his younger brother encouraged him to go back inside their mother’s house as the fight with Ied was breaking out. “He tried to prevent you from going over there?” Eaton asked. “Yes,” Ismael replied. Back at the Parra house after the Ied assault, Miguel also stopped a confrontation between him and Cardenas, Ismael testified.
Cardenas’s attorney, Adam Pearlman, as he did with Santana, attacked Ismael’s credibility, noting how his various statements to police were inconsistent. In one of the interviews with authorities, for instance, Ismael explained how he tripped upon reaching Ied. “You went over to help him, and then you hit him two or three times?” Pearlman asked. “Yeah, he made me fall,” Parra responded.
Pearlman also challenged Ismael’s explanation that he was just trying to help the victims in both assaults that night — the earlier Mi Fiesta punch and the one on Ied. “Is that your role in the neighborhood? You help out people who are being assaulted?” Pearlman asked.
Ismael Parra is expected to be the final witness before closing arguments. Jurors have been hearing testimony since February 13.