Two Eastside gang members have been found guilty by a Santa Barbara jury of first degree murder in the 2007 stabbing death of 16-year-old Lorenzo Carachure, while two others were found guilty of second degree murder.
Ruben Mize and Bryan Medinilla, both 19 years old but only 15 when the attack took place, now both face 25 years to life in prison. Ricardo Nava and Raul Diaz, both 20 years old but 16 at the time of the attack, face 15 years to life in prison for the murder. All four – charged as adults shortly after their arrest – were found not guilty on two attempted murder charges for attacks on Carachure’s cousin and friend, who were walking with Lorenzo at the time. The verdict came in just after 10:30 a.m. Monday and is the result of a second, month-long trial against the four.
While the attack, tucked away in the lower Westside, didn’t receive as much public attention as a stabbing homicide outside of Saks Fifth Avenue in March 2007, or a stabbing death just before the fireworks began on July 4, 2008, it did get the police department’s attention.
It took detectives several months to gather enough information to make arrests, which they finally did in May 2008. Later that year, much of the information they gathered led to the formation of Operation Gator Roll, a raid that took out much of the Eastside gang for a time. “It’s been a long case,” said prosecutor Hans Almgren after the verdict. “Detective [Gary] Siegel and the entire police department put in an incredible amount of work.”
The courtroom was full with officers, detectives, and gang investigators from the Santa Barbara Police Department, as well as DA Joyce Dudley and several attorneys and investigators from her office. The crowd underscored the importance of the case to those in the law enforcement community, one of whom had referred to Mize and company as “hard core gang members.”
As the verdicts were read one-by-one, the four defendants sat mostly still and expressionless. In the audience, Medinilla’s family was very emotional, crying and hugging one another. His older brother eventually spoke out at the jury, saying, “Shame on you, all of you, man. Shame on you,” before being kicked out of the courtroom, which was heavy with security. It didn’t appear that anyone from the Carachure family was present.
Afterward, James Crowder, attorney for Medinilla, questioned the verdict, saying the first degree murder conviction for his client was “not supported by the evidence.” Almgren said later there was “a lot of evidence” to convict.
But the real issue, Crowder said, is that his client shouldn’t have been tried in the same trial as Mize, who some have described as the “epicenter” of gang crime in the streets of Santa Barbara in 2007, despite his youth. “We thought Mr. Mize should’ve been severed,” Crowder said.
Mize will likely never be a free man again. In addition to his murder conviction, Mize has two more attempted murder convictions and a gang membership conviction for which he is yet to be sentenced. Mize took a plea deal in one, and was convicted by a jury in the other. He faces a total of 62 years to life in prison, and still has two cases outstanding: charges related to an alleged gang-related assault in Juvenile Hall, and an alleged gang jumping in.
This will be the third strike for Nava under the California three strikes law, which means he will actually be facing 25 years to life. Nava was convicted to 19 years in state prison in January 2010 after pleading no contest to a different attempted murder in 2007. During the first trial, all four were found guilty of being active members of a criminal street gang, a crime carrying a maximum penalty of three years.
A mistrial in the first Carachure murder trial was declared last summer after jurors couldn’t agree on a verdict of first degree murder against the four defendants. But Mize came away looking most culpable, having admitted on a tape secretly recorded by a confidential informant – his cousin – to being involved in the murder, telling him of a “kill shot.” The informant testified that Medinilla told him he stabbed Carachure in the stomach. As well, the prosecution played several songs in which Mize sings about taking someone’s life.
The evidence against the other defendants was more vulnerable to attack. It was largely based upon the testimony of several people – many of whom are ex-gang members or associates who took plea deals in their own cases in exchange for testimony – including Carlos Diaz, who drove the group to the Westside from the Eastside, and Emilio Mora, who was in the pick-up truck as well and admitted to throwing a bike on top of the victim as he lay bleeding on San Pascual Street. The two were both originally charged with murder in this case as well. Some of the witnesses also said Nava and Diaz admitted to them they were involved, though defense attorneys did their best to go after the witnesses’ credibility.
The second trial played out much the same way the first did, though with one additional witness, and one witness admitting on the stand he had lied during the first trial.
Prior to the first trial last summer, Crowder had filed a motion to sever, but the court ruled the motion was done too close to the start of the trial. Defense attorneys didn’t realize trying all the defendants at once would be problematic for them until right before trial began. After the first trial, the motion was made again, and again denied by Judge Clifford Anderson. Almgren said he never considered severing Mize from the other three.
The severance issue and different degrees of murder conviction will likely take center stage at a probable motion for a new trial when the four defendants are back in court May 9.
Sam Eaton, attorney for Diaz, had no comment after the verdict. Joe Allen, attorney for Mize, could not be reached, and Neil Levinson, attorney for Nava, wasn’t at Monday’s hearing. The members of the jury, who deliberated four days last week and only a couple of hours Monday morning, were unavailable after the verdict was read.