After two months of calling witnesses, the attorneys assigned to the murder trial of 15-year-old Ricardo Juarez -the Eastside youth being tried as an adult for the murder of Luis Angel Linares during a March 2007 downtown gang fight-made their closing statements Monday and Tuesday in front of about 45 onlookers in the Santa Barbara Superior Courthouse. Juarez has been charged with murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and an enhancement alleging that he acted to benefit a criminal street gang.
Prosecutor Hilary Dozer presented his statement first, telling the 15 jurors and alternates, “This is not a difficult case; in fact, it’s pretty straightforward if you follow the law, as you promised to do.” With a PowerPoint slideshow serving as a backdrop, he called Juarez a “gangster killer.” Dozer pointed to a photograph of the teen from last year, where he posed with about 15 other boys, all throwing gang signs.
“This person is an Eastside [gang member],” Dozer said as he pointed toward the defendant. “He’s not like you see here in court, with his little blue plaid shirt, looking like he’s going to prep school.”
Dozer preemptively refuted claims which he knew attorney Karen Atkins, codefense counsel for Juarez, would be making during her closing statements: namely, that another boy-Ricardo “Stomper” Romero-fatally stabbed Linares, and that Juarez had been wrongly charged. According to defense attorneys, it was Romero who delivered the fatal blow. However, the defense does concede that Juarez had been wielding a knife that day and may have delivered one of seven non-fatal wounds found on Linares’s body.
Dozer attempted to dissuade the jurors from considering any evidence involving the role Romero played in the incident, including some of the most compelling evidence about Romero: that he admitted in juvenile court last year to having assaulted Linares with a knife the day of the fight. “To say that he [Romero] inflicted the fatal wound is a stretch beyond any scenario,” Dozer said, later adding that Juarez killed Linares with premeditated intent to do so.
Dozer ended his closing statements with an emotional description of how Linares died in the end-collapsing in a planter in a parking lot. “He died in the dirt,” Dozer concluded.
Atkins’s closing statements focused mainly on the burden of proof that had been placed upon the prosecution. She stated that because Dozer had failed to prove Juarez’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, jurors should be able to reach a not guilty verdict for the defendant on the charge of first-degree murder. “What the prosecution hasn’t proved beyond a reasonable doubt was who inflicted the fatal wound,” Atkins said.
Atkins continued with a brief overview of all of the evidence discussed during the trial that point to Juarez’s innocence. “[Juarez] did not have the victim’s blood on his gloves,” she said. She then reminded the jury that a pair of gloves that police recovered from Ricardo Romero did, on the other hand, have Linares’s DNA on them.
Atkins also highlighted other pieces of information, first calling it remarkable how many witnesses failed to pick Juarez out of police line-ups after the brawl and then playing clips from the whisper tape. That tape compiles video and audio recordings of conversations between Eastside gang members while they were in police custody the day of the fight. At one point, a juvenile-aged friend is talking to Juarez while they both wait in a jail cell and tells Juarez that “Stomper got Nacho,” with the latter being Linares’s nickname. Atkins told the jury that this video evidence strongly suggests that Juarez’s friends were not even aware of Juarez’s presence during the gang fight and that they believed Romero had killed Linares.
Atkins then showed a PowerPoint slide containing transcripts of a MySpace message from another of Juarez’s Eastside friends to an unknown recipient, sent just hours after the fight, that read: “We all got in a big rumble with bottles, knives, metal bars and I think Stomper killed the guy because he said he shanked him and I saw the guy dying.”
Atkins finished her closing statement by telling jurors how important it was for them to weigh all the evidence carefully when making their decisions about Juarez’s innocence during their deliberations. “Our client : had never been in a serious fight before. He never had the intent to kill somebody-ever : His acts that day were dangerous and criminal,” she continued, “but it was not murder. It was assault with a deadly weapon.”
On Wednesday morning, Dozer had a chance to give jurors one last rebuttal to Atkins’s final words. He played a section of the whisper tape in which Juarez is heard speaking with a friend. “I was sticking him and that fool was fucking bleeding from his mouth,” the teen is recorded as saying. “I killed someone. They’ll know.” At that, Dozer simply said, “He has no doubt what he did,” and then sat down.