Prosecution’s Final Witnesses in Juarez Trial
The Whisper Tapes, Suspect Searches, and a Gang Expert
Prosecutor Hilary Dozer wrapped up his case in chief on Monday with three final witnesses who testified about the “Whisper Tapes,” the searches conducted in the homes of suspects, and whether or not the death by stabbing of 15-year-old Luis Angel Linares on March 14, 2007, can be considered a gang-motivated crime in the trial of Ricardo Juarez, the 15-year-old accused of murdering Linares.
Deputy Mark A. Ward was called to the stand as the expert who improved the sound quality of the “Whisper Tapes,” a sotto voce conversation between the defendant and another suspect while they were alone in an interview room at the police station on the day of the killing. Ward was asked to testify to the process by which he made a recording that was virtually impossible to understand significantly better. He explained that after separating the sound from the video of “Whisper Tapes,” he improved the tapes’ audibility by eliminating “the roar and buzz” as well as “lowering the loud areas,” such as closing doors and coughs.
Ward’s purpose on the stand was to reassure the jury that the conversation on the “Whisper Tapes” was not altered in any way that would change the meaning or the matter of the things spoken. Once credibility of the recording was established, Dozer played 20 segments of the “Whisper Tapes,” all two minutes or shorter in length, for the jury, who were provided a transcript of the defense and prosecution’s best guess to what was being said. It was pointed out that there are still portions of the recording for which the defense and prosecution disagree on what is being said, but it is the jury’s job to ultimately decide.
Sgt. Bernaby Gaona took the stand after the “Whisper Tapes” had been played twice for the jury. Gaona, a police sergeant for 27 years, is the head of the Youth Services Section that deals primarily with investigating crimes that are gang related or committed by juveniles. He either conducted or ordered all of the searches of the homes of all of the suspects involved in the events of March 14, 2007, and testified to the assortment of papers, articles of clothing, personal computers, cell phones, and other items collected from the residences. Dozer entered many of the pieces of clothing and papers obtained in these searches into evidence, and he asked the next witness to present an opinion, based on these items, as to whether or not the crime was gang-motivated.
This next witness was Detective Mark Vierra, a member of law enforcement for 22 years. After extensive questioning about his background, establishing that he has participated in approximately 250 gang-related investigations and taken several law enforcement courses on gangs, the court confirmed Vierra as an expert. Vierra explained that the Eastside gang, for which Juarez allegedly knifed Linares, is, like most like most Hispanic gangs, a turf gang, and that the rivalry between the Eastside and Westside gangs is a territorial one, with State Street as the dividing line between each gang’s turf.
Vierra explained that legally speaking, a gang is “an ongoing organization with three or more members with an identifying sign or symbol who engage in criminal acts” as their primary activity. He also described gangs’ relationship to law enforcement and the justice system, pointing out that if you’re in a gang, “you’re not to cooperate,” and that “they take care of themselves” rather than call police when a problem arises. Detective Vierra brought six binders of police reports from the year beginning on March 14, 2006, and ending on the day of Linares’s death. The reports comprised all those filed during that year that mentioned Eastside gang members or affiliates as either suspects or victims. With this body of information in mind, as well as the evidence seized from the residences of the suspects, Dozer posed to Vierra a hypothetical series of events explaining the defendant’s actions on the day of the murder. Dozer then asked him to determine whether or not the murder of Luis Linares, according to Vierra’s expert opinion, was “committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang.”
Vierra responded, “This is all gang related. It’s not a spontaneous event,” going on to point out the basis for his opinion. “They were looking, not just for a random target, but for Westsiders,” explained the detective, also mentioning the knives, bats, bottles, and sticks found at the intersection of State and Carrillo streets. “They were prepared for whatever would come.” Not only did Vierra say that the street fight at large was gang related, but he specifically targeted the defendant, saying, “He was actively involved in a criminal street gang,” and that he “did so willingly.” Vierra explained the murder as an action intended to “promote” the gang, the benefit being that they “[came] out victorious.”
Defense co-counsel Jennifer Archer began her cross-examination of the prosecution’s final witness, and will continue on Thursday, September 11, at 1 pm.