Two alleged juvenile gang associates from Ventura County have denied the murder charges filed against them in connection with the Dec. 9 fatal shooting of an innocent bystander on Stearns Wharf.
The juveniles allegedly engaged in a firefight with a group of alleged Santa Barbara gang associates, and the bystander, Robert Dion Gutierrez, 52, of Camarillo, who was walking on the Santa Barbara wharf with his wife at the time, was caught in the middle. A bullet struck him in the head, and he died later at the hospital.
The 15-year-old defendants appeared in Santa Maria Juvenile Court on Tuesday for arraignment on charges of murder in connection with the slaying, with the special allegation that they “discharged a firearm proximately causing death.”
“Both entered denials to the charges,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Tate McAllister told the News-Press. “One had his case set for 3/2 for further proceedings and the other to 3/28.”
A third juvenile, 16, has been charged with being an accessory after the fact to
murder, and with illegal possession of an unregistered firearm.
Prosecutor McAllister declined to discuss his arraignment Tuesday.
“I can only speak to the proceedings regarding the two juveniles charged with murder,” he said.
The law prohibits law enforcement officials from discussing anything about juveniles charged with crimes because of their age, but it allows for certain exceptions, one of which is murder, he said.
The three juveniles were arrested by Santa Barbara Police Department officers on Feb. 16. Their arrests were the result of an intense police investigation to identify and bring to justice additional suspects following the Jan. 19 arrest of four adult suspects in Santa Barbara who allegedly were involved in the killing.
Santa Barbara police, assisted by several outside agencies, served search-and-arrest warrants at multiple locations in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
A firearm was recovered in the course of executing the search-and-arrest warrants, but it is not known at this time if the gun was used in the commission of the crime. Police described Mr. Gutierrez as an innocent bystander who was in Santa Barbara with his wife walking on Stearns Wharf “when he was struck and killed by one of the rounds fired during an altercation between two groups of individuals at the base of the wharf.
“One group involved in the altercation has been identified as local Santa Barbara area residents with ties to a local Santa Barbara street gang,” police said. “The opposing group in the altercation has been identified as Ventura County residents with ties to Ventura County street gangs.”
The four adult defendants charged in the murder case appeared in Superior Court last Friday to enter pleas, but their arraignments were continued to Feb. 27.