[Noozhawk’s note: This is the first article in a three-part series that offers readers a rare glimpse into the inner workings of organized, calculated street-gang culture — and the killing of a member who dared cross the gang.
Information for the stories, including the following narrative, was derived from statements and evidence presented during criminal grand jury hearings that led to the indictments of 11 people in connection with the March 17, 2013, torture and murder of Anthony Ibarra, 28, of Santa Maria.
The 932-page transcript of the proceedings, obtained by Noozhawk in partnership with KEYT News, provides a detailed account from Santa Barbara County prosecutors of how and why 11 individuals associated with the Surenos street gang — more specifically, Santa Maria’s North West street gang — took part in an unforgiving, violent act because an associate wasn’t following the gang’s rules.
So unforgiving, in fact, that the court has redacted from the transcript the names and accounts of four civilian witnesses — referred to by pseudonyms such as Jane Doe and John Doe — to protect their safety.
Prosecutors aim to prove that the suspects, ranging in ages from 14 to 55, were working to further the success of a criminal street gang at any cost. In this case, the cost was Ibarra’s life.]
• • •
The sound of a dog barking around noon wakes Jane Doe, who rose that Sunday, March 17, to peer out the front screen door of her home in the 1100 block of West Donovan Road in Santa Maria.
Coming briskly up the walkway is a man she knows as Ramon “Crazy Ray” Maldonado, a known Santa Maria North West gang member.
Following him is a line of three men she does not know. All of them wear the same noticeable combination of gloves — a blue latex pair beneath black or dark blue cotton gloves.
They walk in uninvited, joined shortly after by four more men and a woman wearing the same gloves.
Crazy Ray instructs Jane Doe and her brother, John Doe, to sit on a couch in the living room. He orders Jane Doe to lure her friend, 28-year-old Anthony Ibarra, over to the one-story house in the neighborhood of single-family homes.
The ruse is set as Jane Doe tells Ibarra, a known drug dealer, that she wants to buy some methamphetamine, something she has done in the past.
She knows, however, that Ibarra is in trouble with the gang for not paying his “drug taxes.”
On top of not giving a percentage of his drugs sales to the gang — he owed at least $1,200 — Ibarra also has sold drugs from the gang without paying for them.
Fearing for her life, Jane Doe makes the call before Verenisa “Veri” Aviles snatches the phone, imitates her voice and sets up the meeting.
Jane Doe and her brother are then shoved into side bedrooms.
Crazy Ray, the local gang tax collector, sends his then-14-year-old son, Ramon “Little Ray” Maldonado Jr., and Robert “Tito” Sosa (the only person Jane Doe knows) on an errand, and they leave.
Everyone else is hiding when Ibarra arrives, knocks on the door and enters when no one answers his calls.
“What’s up, mother f*****?” Crazy Ray says, reminding Ibarra of his debt.
Initial confusion turns to fear as Crazy Ray stabs Ibarra with what looks like a knife, eliciting a scream. The others join in the kicking and beating as Ibarra begs for time to explain.
He never gets the chance.
• • •
Moments later, Ibarra is walked down a hallway to the back master bedroom, where Crazy Ray orders him to take off his clothes.
Ibarra is forced to sing the “A, B, C’s” in Spanish — a language his friend, Jane Doe, knows he doesn’t speak — as Crazy Ray accuses him of sleeping with his girlfriend.
Reyes “Pumpkin” Gonzalez returns to the living room, making sure Jane Doe and her brother don’t try to leave.
Jane Doe hears someone pushed to the wall. Someone removes a belt from pants.
Amid grunting and taunting, Ibarra begs for his life.
“Everybody get a piece of that,” Crazy Ray says.
Stomping, kicking and punching ensue.
Over a 20-minute period — that to witnesses feels like forever — assailants stab Ibarra 11 times. Some of the wounds are inflicted with a Phillips screwdriver, and some come after his heart stops beating due to blood loss.
Jane Doe and her brother are moved back to the sofa, and Little Ray and Sosa return just before Crazy Ray emerges from the bedroom. He takes off his shirt, caked in sweat.
Crazy Ray tells the witnesses that they will meet a similar fate if they tell anyone what happened. He offers to pay Jane Doe for the blood-soaked carpet, new couches and cleanup costs. He thanks them for the use of the house.
Then Crazy Ray announces that he and his son must leave to attend church, where they are supposed to be for St. Patrick’s Day.
He lifts his pants leg to reveal a GPS tracking bracelet on his ankle stemming from an unrelated criminal matter.
His father, David “Pops” Maldonado, leaves soon after with Aviles, who has been in a bathroom for the duration of the incident.
Those who don’t leave — Sosa, Santos “Little Tuffy” Sauceda, Anthony Solis and Jason Castillo — are left to deal with the mess.
• • •
The cleanup crew gets to work drinking beer, listening to music, even dancing. Sosa, who is in charge of the witnesses, takes Jane Doe with him to Crazy Ray’s residence, and tells her brother to stay put and to make sure no one else enters the house.
A man who rents a room in Jane Doe’s home returns as she is leaving, and is told that there was a fight. Police are involved, Sosa lies, and the renter needs to find somewhere else to stay for the night.
At Crazy Ray’s house, his girlfriend, Carmen Cardenas, is cooking, and everyone else is partying and doing drugs. Pedro Torres Jr. arrives and speaks with Crazy Ray before leaving.
Terrified, Jane Doe sets an early alarm and escapes Monday morning to a relative’s house, where she hides out with her brother, who has also fled. They don’t call the police.
• • •
On the morning of Monday, March 18, the man who rents a room from Jane Doe returns to the residence before heading to work at Kmart.
No one seems to be home.
He can see someone lying on the floor of the master bedroom, and he grabs a flashlight for a closer look. The beam shines on the bloody face and neck of a dead person with injuries from head to toe.
The renter also doesn’t call police. Instead, he goes to work but later becomes so disturbed by what he saw that he breaks down and tells his manager what happened.
He is driven to the Santa Maria police station, and officers are dispatched to the Donovan Road residence.
What they find is blood.
Blood on the walls of the master bedroom.
Blood soaked so far through the carpet that detectives are tracking red footprints through the house — more than 24 hours after the murder was committed.
So much blood that somebody must have died in the room, except police don’t find a body.
They see the blade of a knife with a broken handle, a Phillips screwdriver, and blue latex and cotton gloves thrown in the bushes. Inside is a garbage bag filled with bloody clothes.
• • •
Earlier that same Monday, at around 10 a.m., sheriff’s Detective Neil Gowing is conducting undercover surveillance for an unrelated narcotics investigation in the parking lot of Rancho Bowl, 128 E. Donovan Road, about a mile to the east of the murder scene.
A car approaches the vehicle he has been monitoring.
Gowing recognizes Torres, Crazy Ray’s associate, but isn’t sure of his name.
Torres shares a brief exchange before leaving in his car right behind a U-Haul truck that has arrived with him.
Gowing decides to follow, but loses the vehicles briefly after Torres runs a red light.
He spots the U-Haul again as it backs up to the Donovan Road house.
Making note of the address, Gowing returns to the station and identifies Torres from records shortly before hearing on the radio that Santa Maria police are investigating a possible homicide.
Out of curiosity, Gowing calls police detectives to see what other details they might have. He hangs up before remembering the U-Haul and wonders if it has anything to do with the case.
A detective confirms his suspicions when he texts Gowing the address of the crime scene.
Police use GPS to locate, or “ping,” a cell phone number in the system for Torres, who on Monday afternoon is in the parking lot of the emergency room at Marian Regional Medical Center.
Torres is waiting for Cardenas; she is inside with her young son who is being treated after putting his fingers too close to an oscillating fan.
Detectives put surveillance on Torres and decide to take him and Cardenas in for questioning when they learn they’re waiting for Crazy Ray to arrive.
Crazy Ray is located via his GPS bracelet and they bring him in, too.
The tracking device shows Crazy Ray at the Donovan residence on Sunday afternoon, and when the U-Haul would have been there Monday morning.
Detectives still don’t have the truck or a body.
• • •
An exhaustive search for the U-Haul continues into the morning of Tuesday, March 19.
On his own, Gowing scours the streets for nearly three hours before deciding to return to the station.
While on his way back, he finally gets a break, passing a U-Haul parked on a residential street in Orcutt.
The license plate matches a missing truck rented under Cardenas’ name.
Blood is visible on the bumper, and a lock is on the back door.
Gowing requests a police unit that can cut the lock, and is the detective who opens the door to make sure no one inside needs help.
A lifeless leg and foot are visible beneath blankets and other furniture. The man does not have a pulse, but Gowing observes a tattoo across his back that reads, “Ibarra.”
• • •
Most of the gang assailants deny involvement during initial interviews with police, but eventually change their stories to admit having been at the Donovan Road residence at some point during the incident.
They all downplay their roles.
Crazy Ray is the only suspect who appears unafraid during questioning.
He nods when asked if he knows anything about Ibarra’s murder.
Then he chuckles, and asks for a cigarette.
[Noozhawk’s note: The defendants in the Ibarra torture-murder are due back in Superior Court in Santa Maria on July 18.]
» Click here for KEYT News’ report on the investigation.
» Click here for a complete list of charges in the case.