The boy charged with murdering Luis Angel Linares in a gang brawl last spring listened quietly on August 7 to testimony from Santa Barbara Police Detective Gary Siegel that the young defendant had confessed just hours after the killing. The accused, Ricardo Juarez, had turned 14 a mere month before the homicide, which took place after school near the corner of State and Carrillo streets on March 14. Juarez is being tried as an adult, which means that his trial will be conducted in public, rather than in the confidential environs of juvenile court. If convicted, he will be sentenced to a juvenile facility and may then be transferred to adult prison at age 18. On the second day of his preliminary hearing, Juarez sat at the defense table in an oversized button-down dress shirt as Siegel and other witnesses were called by Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer and cross-examined by Deputy Public Defender Karen Atkins.
When he interrogated Juarez that night, Siegel said, the boy admitted to crossing State Street after gang slogans were shouted and signs thrown, and stabbing Linares simply because he was among the group claiming Westside identity. Siegel went on to testify that Juarez recounted chasing the victim-whom he did not know-down Carrillo and swinging again. Juarez was unable to remember if the blade made contact that time, said Siegel. Linares collapsed and died in the Saks Fifth Avenue parking lot. Juarez fled east after hearing sirens, and according to Siegel’s account, threw the filed-down 10-inch knife in a State Street trash can. He was arrested moments later along with six other youths. Juarez was identified almost immediately as the main suspect by Brent Daniels, a partner in L&P Consultants, who testified on Monday that he saw the stabbing from a second-story window overlooking the corner at State and Carrillo.
Daniels said that he watched the victim running down State with Juarez and others following behind him. He testified that he saw Juarez thrust the knife once into Linares’s arm or upper body, and then Linares stumbling backwards into a crab walk, trying to get away. Daniels said he saw Juarez stab him again, and a few minutes later saw Juarez and several others surrender to officers, which is when Daniels went down and immediately identified Juarez as the stabber. Now, almost five months later, Daniels said he couldn’t in all honesty be certain that the boy at the defense table was the same one he saw that day. Asked if he thought the identification was accurate, however, Daniels responded that he was “100 percent” sure at the time. Officers who were at the scene that day testified that the boy sitting at the defense table was the same youth Daniels identified in the street. A second eyewitness-this one another young teenager armed with a bottle, who had run toward the Westsiders just yards behind Juarez-also identified Juarez as the stabber, according to Detective Siegel’s testimony.
Atkins tried several approaches in her attempt to deflate the evidence against her client. She objected that Siegel could not say for certain that Juarez meant “fellow gang members” when he used the term “homies.” She also argued that Siegel had introduced the word into the dialogue with Juarez and used it 24 times, whereas Juarez used it only four times. The point is significant because gang membership generally increases the magnitude of a crime and the length of the sentence. Atkins also hinted that a second juvenile, known in court as Ricardo S., had used a knife that officers searched for the day after the murder.
Brian McCarthy, Juarez’s sixth-grade teacher at Cleveland School, sobbed in the hallway after the report of Juarez’s confession. “He was one of the most popular kids in school and a great kid. He was never in trouble. He was never suspended in his life,” McCarthy said. He called Juarez a “straight B-plus student” whom he recommended for honors classes in junior high. “How do you lose that in a year?” McCarthy wailed.
Meanwhile, the victim’s parents and relatives found themselves in the same courtroom as not only Juarez’s grieving parents but also more than a dozen Eastside teens. Some of the young people insisted they have never been involved in gangs, but at least one identified himself as a gang member. The adolescents occasionally sneaked glances but otherwise made no sign of noticing the victim’s family, which has received no apology from Eastside gang members or from the youths involved in the brawl that led to Linares’s death. The preliminary hearing is expected to continue into next week. Following the prosecution’s turn, the defense may attempt to persuade the judge that Juarez should stand trial on lesser charges than first-degree murder in furtherance of the interests of a criminal street gang.