Paul Wellman

Defense attorneys for 15-year-old Ricardo Juarez called their first witnesses to the stand at Santa Barbara Superior Court on Friday and Monday – trying to establish Juarez’s innocence by proving that another area teen involved in the fight, also named Ricardo, was in fact the one responsible for the fatal March 2007 stabbing of Luis Angel Linares.

According to the testimony of a police officer Monday, this Ricardo, who goes by the nickname “Stomper,” had reportedly asked a friend shortly after the announcement of Linares’s death to go to church with him so they could pray and plead with God to not let Stomper “get caught.”

On Friday, defense counsel attorneys Karen Atkins and Jennifer Archer called two female minors – whose names are being withheld because they are minors – to testify about the stabbing, which occurred in the parking lot of Saks Fifth Avenue on State Street. The witnesses, who were seventh graders at Santa Barbara Junior High School at the time of the stabbing, both testified that they could see a fight across the street from their viewpoint in front of the Shooz shoe store, on the southeast corner of the intersection of State and Carrillo.

“Bottles were being thrown, and gang signs were being flashed,” the first witness said. “You could feel the energy.”

A few minutes later, both witnesses testified, they spotted their friend Stomper, or Ricardo Romero, running toward them, across State Street via Carrillo. When he made contact with the witnesses, “He was out of breath” and “freaking out,” the young women said. The first witness testified on Friday that Stomper told her “he had been in a fight” and that someone had been stabbed in the back twice.

The first witness also testified the teen was wearing a pair of black gloves on his hands. At some point, she said, he removed the gloves, revealing red blood on his hands-and then gave them to her for safekeeping. On Monday, another witness in the case-Officer Alexander Cruz of the Santa Barbara Police Department-testified that when he interviewed the first of Friday’s juvenile witnesses shortly after the incident in March 2007, she said Romero used a blue bandana to wipe the blood off of his hands, and then said something along the lines of “Don’t worry, I don’t think it’s my blood.”

According to testimony in the trial last week, both Romero’s and Linares’s DNA were found on the gloves-which were confiscated from the witness from a dresser drawer in her Eastside home by police a few days after the stabbing incident.

Archer then asked the witness about a threat she had received over the Internet regarding Romero’s involvement in the stabbing. While the witness seemed reluctant to talk about it, Archer went on to describe the threat as received in the form of a message to her MySpace account, a social networking site. According to Archer’s notes, the message-the author of which was not discussed-read, “I heard you ratted on Ricardo [Romero]. I was there when you gave the gloves to the pigs. Watch when you come to school. You’re going to get checked.”

The second of the minor witnesses Friday echoed all of the first’s statements, but during their brief conversation with Romero that day, he had told the girls he “had hit somebody with a bat in the mouth, and that the person had screamed in pain.” She added that he asked them for directions to the Eastside Boys and Girls Club, which they gave to him just before they parted ways that afternoon.

In addition to the two girls’ under-oath statements on Friday, the testimony of Officer Cruz, who was the last witness called by the defense to testify on Monday, was also particularly revealing of the role Romero played in the stabbing.

Cruz, who has worked with the Youth Services division of the SBPD – which deals mostly with juveniles involved with gang activity – for the majority of his 14-year tenure at the agency, testified that the day of the stabbing, he went to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital to talk to a youth who had been at the Boys and Girls Club when Romero arrived the afternoon of March 14.

The youth told Cruz that the reason he had been at the club that day was intentional-he had known there was going to be a fight that day, and he “didn’t want to be involved,” Cruz said.

When Romero arrived, the other teen reported that he “kept putting his face in his hands, and at one point said to him, ‘I think I just killed somebody.'”

Cruz told the defense team that when an announcement came from Boys and Girls Club staff members later that day that there had indeed been a fatality from the recent fight in the Saks Fifth Avenue parking lot, and that a boy was dead, the teen reported that Romero walked over to a wall inside the room they were in, and punched a hole in it with his fist.

According to Cruz’s report of the boy’s testimony to the police, Romero then asked him if he would go to church with him that day so they could “pray that he didn’t get in trouble or that he didn’t get caught.”

The defense portion of the Juarez trial will reconvene tomorrow morning in Judge Brian Hill’s courtroom.


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