Ricardo Juarez, 14, pleaded not guilty to murder charges on Friday in Santa Barbara Superior Court. Juarez is being charged as an adult for allegedly stabbing 15-year-old Luis Angel Linares to death during a large gang brawl that took place in downtown Santa Barbara on March 14.
Ten others have been charged in juvenile court for crimes related to the fight. Public defender Karen Atkins released a statement to the media after the arraignment stating her belief that her client belongs in juvenile court along with the others. Atkins hopes to meet with District Attorney Christie Stanley and Senior Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer before the next court date, where she intends to “provide them with our case analysis as well as information about our client,” with hope that “they will reconsider their initial decision and will send the case to juvenile court for resolution.”
Also Friday, attorney Robert F. Landheer, who was in attendance outside the hearing and listened to Dozer speak with the media, sent a letter to Stanley’s office asking her to reconsider charging Juarez as an adult. Citing book references and court opinions, Landheer wrote, “Ricardo Juarez is not responsible for the culture of gang violence. Making him an example, will not deter other adolescence from the cycle of gang violence that now confronts Santa Barbara. Ricardo Juarez is not the problem; he, like the young man who has been slain at such an early age, is also a victim of this culture of violence.” Landheer’s three-page letter had 13 additional names of Santa Barbara attorneys at the bottom.
In addition, Atkins suggested that it wasn’t Juarez, but another juvenile responsible for the stabbing, citing “a lot of rumors milling around among the children at school who witnessed the events or had close friends involved in the fight.” With many young males dressed similarly, and a lot happening that day, there is “significant confusion about what actually happened and who actually inflicted the fatal injuries” to Linares, she said. She asked anyone with information to contact her or the authorities.
But based off information contained in police reports and investigations, there is probable cause Juarez committed the crime, Dozer said. He continued, however, by saying his office is open to any and all new information which might become available in the ongoing investigation.
Along with the not guilty plea, Atkins also denied special allegations – Dozer classified them as gang enhancements – that could tack on more time to Juarez’s sentence should he be found guilty. Judge Harry J. Loberg initially assigned the case to Judge Clifford Anderson’s courtroom, but Dozer asked the judge move the case to another courtroom. Loberg did, to Judge George Eskin’s, which didn’t sit right with Atkins, who asked the case be switched. Loberg then assigned the case to Judge Brian Hill’s courtroom, where a preliminary hearing setting date has been set for May 10. As in the past, there was a strong Sheriff’s deputy presence in the courtroom, and observers were forced to pass through metal detectors before entering the courtroom.
In related news, when one reporter asked Dozer at a post-hearing press conference whether he’d heard rumors of a gang fight at the Santa Barbara Fair & Expo on Friday night, he replied, “You’ve got good sources.” Police spokesperson Lt. Paul McCaffrey confirmed that the cops would be prepared.