Santa Barbara jury hands down verdicts for three defendants
A Santa Barbara jury has found MS-13 gang members guilty of multiple first-degree murder charges with special circumstances, conspiracy to murder and gang conspiracy charges.
Guilty verdicts were rendered for Jose Balmore Saravia Lainez, Jose Ricardo Saravia Lainez and Jose Narciso Escobar Hernandez, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley announced Tuesday.
This trial was the second of two trials involving the prosecution of 10 MS-13 gang members who committed nine murders and conspiracies to murder 14 additional victims in Santa Maria and Oxnard in 2015-2016.
The first trial against five separate defendants concluded in April 2022 when a Santa Maria jury found Luis German Mejia Orellana, Juan Carlos Urbina Serrano, Marcos Manuel Sanchez Torres, Tranquilino Robles Morales and Juan Carlos Lozano Membreno guilty of the murders of the same nine victims and the conspiracy to murder 14 victims.
“This case was by far the most complex gang case in the state of California,” District Attorney Dudley said in a news release. “This successful prosecution was possible because of the extraordinary prosecutors and other members of this office who work tirelessly to ensure that justice was served.”
The Santa Maria Police Department’s investigation, led by detectives Michael Huffman and Scott Casey, began in 2015 when there was an unprecedented number of homicides in Santa Maria.
The investigation continued into early 2016 after four more homicides and six attempted homicides.
On March 3, 2016, the defendants’ killing spree ended when the Santa Maria Police Department arrested the defendants, with the help of teams from the Oxnard Police Department, the Lompoc Police Department, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
In July 2016, a criminal grand jury indicted 12 defendants on 50 counts — including murder with special circumstances, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder and gang conspiracy.
Ten defendants asserted their right to a jury trial. The Santa Barbara County Superior Court split the trial into two groups of five defendants in late 2019.
The first trial against five defendants began in March 2020, but after only 10 days, the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, putting the trial on hold, indefinitely.
The first trial restarted in July 2021, led by Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen and co-counsel, Deputy District Attorney Peter Telesca. The second trial began in October 2021, led by Chief Deputy District Attorney Kelly Duncan and co-counsel, Senior Deputy District Attorney Lynmarc Jenkins.
Two juries — in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara — listened to many months of testimony from hundreds of witnesses, the District Attorney’s Office noted in its news release.
On May 16, Judge John McGregor sentenced each of the five trial-one defendants to a range of 313 years to life, followed by six to nine life without parole sentences. The second trial’s three defendants are scheduled to be sentenced at 8:30 a.m. July 26 in Department 11 of the Santa Barbara County Superior Court.
Each defendant faces multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole, according to the district attorney’s office.