Testimony at the preliminary hearing of Ricardo Juarez – the 14-year-old accused of fatally stabbing Luis Angel Linares in a March 14 gang brawl – yielded information on Monday and Tuesday that would seem to bolster the cases of both the prosecution and defense. Of particular note was “item #22,” a knife with a seven-inch blade that investigators found in a trash can near the scene of the crime. The weapon was introduced during testimony from Dianne Burns, a forensics scientist who claimed she positively identified DNA found on the handle as belonging to Juarez. Perhaps some of the most compelling testimony, however, came from a Santa Barbara High School student who claimed the Linares murder convinced him to end his affiliation with Santa Barbara’s Eastside gang.
Referred to only in court at “Mario A,” the young man said that watching the attack on Linares motivated him to wash his hands of gangs and the violence that comes along with them. Mario described for the court the attack from the view of an Eastsider. In his telling of the events leading up the stabbing, he recalled that one boy brought two knives to the gathering before the State Street brawl and gave one – later to be identified as the murder weapon – to Juarez. (The presence of a second knife and the possibility of a second stabber seems to be the foundation of Juarez’s defense by Public Defender Karen Atkins.)
Mario clarified testified his testimony later, however, to say that while he saw the knife given to Juarez, he never actually saw the smaller folding knife the other boy claimed to have. “I just knew he had it.” Mario said. He also could not recall whether that unnamed person, however, was actually at the brawl. Later, Dozer showed Juarez photos of the knife that Juarez allegedly used to stab Linares, asking to confirm that this was indeed the knife Mario remembered. Mario was unsure.
Mario also testified that although the approximately thirty other Eastside juveniles involved knowingly intended to confront Westsiders as they walked down State Street, he said he did not know that the afternoon would end with a physical conflict, much less murder.
When the two gangs became aware of each other a few blocks down from Carrillo Street, their members began exchanging threatening gestures and words, with the clash igniting when an a Westsider threw a glass bottle at Eastsiders. An Eastsider threw it back. Eastsiders then charged, some of them in possession of multiple weapons, including the two knives and a chair leg, Mario claimed. (This would seem to corroborate with testimony from Detective Alexander Cruz, who had earlier relayed a witness account from one Luis L. that identified the Eastsider as having instigated the fight.)
In response to a question about the presence of weapons, Mario said he claimed to have seen no weapons being used on Linares: “They were beating him with their fists: and he started to crouch.” Mario said that he did not witness the stabbing, he “just saw [Linares] choking up blood.”
Mario said he then turned to run back towards State after seeing a larger group of Westside teens run from the bus Chapala Street transit center to the fight. As he ran north on State on the eastside of the street near the Montecito Bank & Trust, he then saw Juarez toss a knife into a trash can. Mario said he did not witness Juarez fight with or stab Linares.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer, who represented the prosecution, attempted several times to get Mario to identify the boy who had brought the knives by showing pictures of individuals known to be involved with the brawl, but Mario repeatedly refused, saying “I do not want to say.” Mario also refused to give any names of who from the Eastside gang had done what during the attack, stating that he feared that harm might befall him and his family if he did so. His testimony ended on Monday with wise words: “Are you still a member of the Eastsiders?” asked Dozer. “No,” Mario replied. Dozer then asked the young man why he quit. “I don’t want to deal with this anymore,” Mario replied.
During the cross-examination by Atkins’ co-counsel, Jennifer Archer, Mario was asked to describe what he was wearing on the day and whether anyone in the group had a similar outfit or body type. Mario said only one individual was close to his 5’4 height and white shirt and black Dickies pants, but that person had a different haircut.
The second and final testimony for the day’s three-hour hearing came from Detective Michael Brown, who was one of the primary investigators in the Linares murder case and a member of the youth services section that deals with gang activity. He detailed the photos and images from Juarez’s MySpace profile that were obtained by a search warrant, which included several photos of Juarez flashing “E” with his right hand and “S” with his left to represent the eastside and a cartoon of a boy wearing an “Eastside” baseball cap and urinating on the word “Westside.” Juarez, whose moniker is “Lil’ Theif,” also had “TRS” on his profile, which stands for Travioso, a subset of the Eastside gang.
The hearing closed as Brown described a recorded conversation between Juarez and another arrested eastside teen, Jose M. in an interview room the night of the stabbing. Brown said that the audio – which had to be amplified because the two had been whispering – features Juarez mentioning “sticking” Linares near the bus transit center and seeing the blood that flowed out of the victim’s mouth as he was stabbed.