Isla Vista shooting suspect James Taylor stands in court during this week's preliminary hearing.

Paul Wellman/S.B. Independent

Isla Vista shooting suspect James Taylor stands in court during this week's preliminary hearing.

Isla Vista Shooting Suspects Appear in Court

Witnesses Offer Conflicting Accounts of Who Pulled the Trigger

Witness and victim statements offer conflicting accounts of who pulled the trigger in last month’s shooting in Isla Vista that wounded two UCSB students.

 Suspects Jose Gutierrez, 19, and James Taylor, 22, have both been identified as the single shooter in what appears to have been a drug deal gone bad.

They are currently in custody at Santa Barbara County Jail and are charged with attempted murder, robbery, and participation in a criminal street gang. Both Gutierrez and Taylor sustained moderate injuries as they struggled with the victims and witnesses during the incident.

At a preliminary court hearing Wednesday, investigators described a chaotic scene at the Sabado Tarde apartment where the shooting took place. They discovered drug paraphernalia and weapons scattered throughout the unit, including a shotgun and ammunition, as well as large amounts of marijuana in jars, sandwich bags, and a clothes dryer.

“Pay and owe” sheets were tucked into a nearby folder, and a video security system monitored the front door. A Taser with an expended cartridge was also collected by detectives. The Taser was given as a gift, said detectives, to a woman living in the unit who described herself as “paranoid.” She used it to incapacitate one of the suspects.

Isla Vista shooting suspect Jose Gutierrez.
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman/S.B. Independent

Isla Vista shooting suspect Jose Gutierrez.

Throughout the hearing, police officers recounted witness statements given after the shooting occurred. No one doubted that both Gutierrez and Taylor were at the scene, but they disagreed on who pulled the trigger.

One of the victims, identified in court by his initials W.K., identified Taylor from an array of six photographs and said he was 100 percent confident of Taylor’s role in the crime.

Deputy District Attorney Hans Almgren questioned Michael Schwab, a crime scene investigator, about the terminal ballistics of a 9mm bullet. No efforts were made to establish the trajectory of the two bullets fired, Schwab said. Bullets are made of frangible lead and often fragment when they encounter hard surfaces such as wood, metal, or bone; eight to 10 small bullet fragments were found in the apartment as part of the investigation.

Schwab agreed that a “through-and-through” wound could allow a bullet to remain relatively intact. One victim suffered such an injury to his chest. An intact 9mm bullet was recovered from the ceiling. Blood was puddled in the kitchen and could be seen above the sink, Schwab said.

During a second interview, W.K. told investigators that as a scuffle between Gutierrez and others started unfolding inside the apartment’s kitchen, Taylor ordered W.K. to not become involved. W.K. said Taylor “appeared to be in crowd-control mode,” according to Detective Matt Banks. Agitated by being confronted in his own home, W.K. pushed Taylor into a closet and engaged him in a two- to three-minute fistfight, Banks said.

While the struggle continued inside the closet, a single gunshot was heard from the kitchen. Fearing for the lives of his friends, W.K. left Taylor in the closet and went to the kitchen, he told detectives. W.K. found his friends in an intense struggle with Gutierrez and could recall the pungent smell and haze that were a result of freshly ignited gunpowder. Thirty seconds later, a second shot rang out.

After beating both men with skateboards, the witnesses and victims said they were able to take control of the handgun and chamber a round, keeping Taylor on the ground. Witnesses say Gutierrez fled sometime after the second shot was fired. He was later apprehended at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, where he tried to convince doctors he had been injured in a car accident.

Witnesses said the victims might have been targeted for robbery because of their large supply of medical marijuana and their apparent wealth.

Wednesday’s hearing concluded Thursday. Both Taylor and Gutierrez are scheduled to appear back in court at a later date.

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