Intensity is picking up and emotions are starting to run high in Judge Brian Hill‘s courtroom as the murder trial for Ricardo Juarez-a 15-year-old charged as an adult for killing 15-year-old Luis Angel Linares during a gang brawl on March 14, 2007- concludes its first complete week.
With news that a stabbing Sunday night, August 10, at the Guest House Inn, 3344 State St., was indeed connected to the trial, and that the victim was expected to testify just a few days after the incident, the matter took center stage during arguments outside the presence of the jury, where strong words were exchanged between attorneys. Defense co-counsel Jennifer Archer had that morning used the name of the recent stabbing victim in open court, which prosecutor Hilary Dozer said was “inexcusable when that person was subject to the type of event reported.” He said it was done for a specific reason by the defense: “to increase the likelihood of no cooperation” from witnesses.
Defense co-counsel Karen Atkins, who has said these alleged intimidation efforts have nothing to do with anything she or her client have done, rose to object to what Dozer was saying. As she did, the judge told both attorneys to sit down, saying he didn’t attribute any intent to the defense. Both attorneys obliged, but Atkins, as she sat, told the court that Dozer was “grandstanding to the press.”
Police arrived at the scene Sunday to find an 18-year-old lying in front of the lobby “bleeding profusely” as a result of multiple stab wounds. According to the Daily Sound, the young man suffered from a collapsed lung and a severe cut on his face. He also had cuts on his leg and right shoulder. Last reports indicated the man was in stable condition at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. Both the victim and one of the suspects who was arrested, Pablo Lopez, were Eastside gang members, according to police reports cited by the Daily Sound.
During pretrial motions, the stabbing victim had been granted use immunity by the prosecution, meaning whatever he said on the stand couldn’t be used against him. The boys who testified Friday weren’t scheduled to be called by Dozer until later in the trial, but the prosecutor moved them up to Friday because an “increase in intimidation is likely.”
Friday’s courtroom events came just one day of trial after Dozer said a man in the audience made an intimidating gesture toward one of Dozer’s witnesses, a former gang member. Dozer said that before leaving the room, the person-whom others in the courtroom identified as a gang member-stood up shaking his head, as the boy on the stand testified that he saw defendant Juarez throw a knife into a garbage can. More bailiffs were subsequently stationed in the courtroom. Trial attendees are required to pass through a metal detector.
Despite the heightened alert, there has been little to no apparent gang presence in the courtroom most days. The courtroom has been occupied mostly by media, attorneys, and casual observers throughout the six days of trial.
Also on Friday, police announced the arrest of two more people–19-year-old Jorge Bustos, and a 16-year-old female– allegedly involved in Sunday’s assault on the scheduled witness. The young woman had an existing probation violation warrant for her arrest. “During the subsequent investigation, she was arrested as a suspect for her involvement in the stabbing,” Sgt. Lorenzo Duarte said in a statement. Bustos was arrested in Goleta without incident. They both were booked for attempted murder, participating in a criminal street gang crime, conspiracy, and intimidating a witness.
Courtroom tensions continued as the day went on, with Dozer at one point expressing frustration with Atkins for approaching the defense table to look at evidence. He was concerned about the “cavalier” way she approached the evidence-which included a copper wire bent into an “ES” shape-“even if inadvertently,” he said.
The prosecutor called more witnesses to the stand, including three juveniles, two of whom admitted to being former Eastside gang members. While they received immunity for testifying on the stand, they seemed to be reluctant to give up information, rarely if at all using names of their peers, and not willing to say they had participated in the fighting on the day Linares was killed.
Dozer also called Linda Compat, who had just finished shopping at Saks and was in the parking lot when a large group of kids came around the corner. She testified that she saw somebody smack the boy in the head with what she thought to be a baseball bat, and, as Linares turned to face his chasers, she “basically saw something going into his chest.” Later, she said she would never forget what she saw that day. Her testimony was cut off at the end of the court day; she will resume her testimony Monday morning.