A minor and SBPD Detective Michael Brown were called to the stand on Friday, September 5, in the trial of Ricardo Juarez, as prosecutor Hilary Dozer spent the day trying to prove that the defendant, then 14, had Eastside gang affiliations in March 2007 and that his alleged fatal stabbing of Luis Linares was an act intended to benefit the gang.
The first witness, a young man detained at the intersection of State and Carrillo streets for wielding a baseball bat that March 14, and charged with possession of a deadly weapon, has served five months in Juvenile Hall and is currently on probation.
The witness testified that he had no “affiliation” or “association” with the Eastside gang, but was “just friends” with the Eastsiders and knew them from school. On the afternoon that Linares was killed, this minor said that he was at the corner of State and Carrillo streets with friends. When he started to follow one of them across the street, a Westsider threw a bike at him, which he then rode across the street toward the Westside. During Dozer’s direct examination, the prosecutor mentioned the earlier testimony of SBPD Officer Christopher Zbinden, who said he saw two boys on bicycles wielding bats like polo mallets and hitting people. The young man admitted to having a baseball bat, but said, “I didn’t hit no one.”
Despite his denial of any “affiliation” with the Eastside gang, the witness admitted to knowing several of the other boys detained that day, several of whom he had contact with in Juvenile Hall. Dozer also brought new evidence to the courtroom, several bits of paper and cardboard found in the witness’s bedroom, which had “Eastside” and “TRS” (for Traviesos) as well as the witness’s name written on them, in his own handwriting. The witnessed claimed that he had those objects with graffiti on them to fit in with his friends; he agreed with Dozer that he had “backed up” the Eastside gang on March 14.
The second witness was Detective Brown, who took the stand primarily to answer questions about information collected from the MySpace pages of the defendant and others, as well as to testify about the so-called “Whisper Tape.” The defendant’s MySpace page, which was shown on a projector, was filled with pictures of Juarez and his friends making “ES” and “TRS” hand signs, wearing Eastside shirts and Texas Rangers hats (which have a large “T” on them that Brown claimed was worn as a sign of affiliation to the Eastside Traviesos).
In addition to the photo evidence, several bits of written evidence seemed to tie Juarez securely to the Eastside gang. Descriptions written in the “About Me” and “Interests” sections of his page contained phrases such as “don’t watch TV, just gang bang,” and listed “some gangsta ass shit,” along with music as interests. In her cross-examinations, Deputy Public Defender Jennifer Archer emphasized that it is not illegal to make hand signals, have nicknames, wear baggy clothing, use MySpace, or take pride in one’s neighborhood-all the things that the prosecution has been using to tie the defendant to a gang.
In the course of his testimony on the “Whisper Tape,” Detective Brown described how difficult it was to understand what was being said on the tape. Even after sending it to several people, including a UCSB professor and the FBI, in attempts to improve its audibility and quality, the recording is still very difficult to make out. Ultimately, the “Whisper Tape” examination was cut short because there wasn’t enough time to listen to the 10 to 15 minute segment that the prosecution brought to court. Judge Brian Hill got a few laughs when he pointed out that on Monday, “‘The ‘Whisper Tape’ will otherwise speak for itself–or whisper.”
The trial is scheduled to resume on Monday, September 8, at 10 a.m. as usual, but this time with one fewer juror. One of the alternate jurors, a middle-aged man, was dismissed on Friday for “personal reasons,” but did not make any further statements about the reason he was dismissed or about the trial.