While one gang-related murder trial ended Tuesday with the sentencing of a Westsider to life in prison, a jury is headed into the fourth day of deliberating the fate of three other men alleged to have participated in what authorities call a gang-related attack that ended in death. The two homicides were the most recent in a string of gang-related killings in Santa Barbara but the only two against citizens with no connection to area gangs.
Adrian Robles, convicted of first-degree murder in December, will never step foot in the free world again after Judge Brian Hill sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the stab to the neck that killed 44-year-old Robert Simpson at Hendry’s Beach in April 2010. Simpson’s mother, Susan, said Robles can now live “the life he has chosen in the environment that suits him.”
Waiting for their jury in a separate trial are brothers Ismael and Miguel Parra and Michael Cardenas. The threesome are accused of punching and kicking George Ied to death on his way home from work in October 2011.
The two killings, combined with four other gang-related murders since 2007 — all were stabbings — spurred an increase in law enforcement and led to the city’s proposed gang injunction, which continues to wind its way through court. “Once again in Santa Barbara we have a gang-related stabbing, a gang-related assault,” Hill said of Robles’s attack on Simpson. “In my view, this was a vicious attack. It was unmitigated. It was senseless.”
“I don’t know what the answer is,” Hill said about the gang violence. “I do know a large number of Hispanic males are spending their lives in prison.” Simpson’s mother said she hoped the sentence would be a wake-up call to the community, and that the media, law enforcement, community leaders, and others can “actively pursue the elimination of gangs in our area.”
According to testimony during the nearly six-week trial, Rudy Gallegos — a friend of Robles and self-described former gang member — originally fought with Simpson after a disagreement at Hendry’s Beach, with Simpson winning the fight. The two men shook hands and walked away. But Robles returned with a knife and stabbed Simpson once in the neck, severing his jugular vein and almost cutting through his carotid artery. Simpson died that night.
Gallegos was identified and originally arrested for the murder, but he was later cleared of the stabbing. He testified against Robles in the trial. Many witnesses saw the event, and their testimony pointed to one of the two Hispanic males fighting with Simpson with the other male actually committing the stabbing.
Two young women — one a juvenile, the other 19-year-old Brittany Weiler — had been with Gallegos and Robles at the time and were also charged in the case. Weiler pleaded guilty to accessory to murder and received probation, while the 17-year-old’s case was resolved in juvenile court.
Simpson’s mother and his brother, Michael, spoke of a man who lived his life for family and friends. Michael Simpson said his brother was his best friend, his confidant, and someone he “could always turn to for advice and support.”
Robles was sentenced after the judge denied his motion for a new trial. Steve Balash, Robles’s attorney, also requested the judge drop the first-degree murder charge to second-degree murder. Balash argued that there was ample evidence Robles was provoked, but the judge disagreed, saying the provocation took place much earlier. Hill said there was enough time for the murder to be premeditated and deliberate.
Because this was an identification case, Balash argued, and because one of the main witnesses was one of two suspects, a detective vouching for the credibility of that person was very important and prejudicial. Hill, however, said the statement didn’t amount to Det. Chris Corbett vouching for the credibility of Gallegos. “I don’t really think it’s a close case,” he explained.