Attorneys delivered their opening statements Wednesday morning in the Adrian Robles homicide trial, in which Robles is accused of fatally stabbing 44-year-old Mesa resident Robert Burke Simpson on April 15, 2010, at Arroyo Burro Beach.
Security was tight at the Santa Barbara County Superior Courthouse, given Robles’ alleged crimes and involvement in the Westside criminal street gang.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer is prosecuting the case, and Robles is being represented by defense attorney Steve Balash. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges of murder with special allegations and street terrorism. Judge Brian Hill is presiding.
Dozer said he would provide evidence that Robles made “one quick blow, one deadly strike with one small knife,” and did so with malice aforethought.
Simpson was fatally stabbed at Arroyo Burro Beach, known as Hendry’s Beach, around 6:30 p.m. on April 15, 2010. Several bystanders and first responders tried to help him, but he was declared dead at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
Simpson was stabbed in the neck from behind, and the one movement severed his jugular vein and almost completely cut through the right carotid artery, Dozer said, adding that the location of the wound and its “inevitable fatal consequences” show a specific intent to kill.
Robles, who was 20 at the time, is accused of murdering Simpson and doing so for the benefit of a documented street gang, so gang enhancements are included with his homicide charge.
Gang experts in local law enforcement are expected to testify that perceived disrespect can spur gang members to deadly violence, Dozer added. Mere words, he said, “can prove so inflammatory that those words require a deadly response.”
The timeline Dozer explained during opening statements was a more detailed version of the preliminary hearing’s narrative.
Dozer said Simpson and his friends were Hendry’s Beach regulars, where they would often spend the day drinking, surfing and sometimes getting high on marijuana.
On that April 15, Simpson joined the group around 3:45 p.m. For several hours, his group was nearby — and interacted with — the group made up of Robles, fellow Westside gang member Rudy Gallegos, Brittany Weiler and Vanessa Ochoa, all much younger than Simpson’s group.
There was increasing tension between the groups — both had been drinking, Dozer said — and arguments began. There was taunting, references to Mexicans and “words flew hot and heavy on both sides,” Dozer said.
Though the arguments originated between Robles and one of Simpson’s friends, Ed McGinniss, Gallegos and Simpson joined the argument and eventually agreed to fight each other one-on-one.
“Simpson called Rudy ‘a bitch’ — a verbal insult that could not be ignored,” Dozer said.
The fight didn’t last long, as the ex-Marine was able to easily overpower and pin down the younger man, Dozer said. They both walked away — Gallegos to rest at a table, and Simpson to walk toward the beach.
During the fight, Robles retrieved a small knife from Weiler’s purse in the white Nissan Altima — he knew better than to carry a weapon, Dozer said.
The fight was already over when Robles got back, and he had no satisfaction for the perceived disrespect against him and his gang, Dozer said. The area was claimed by the Westside gang with tagging, as well.
Robles ran across the grass, approached Simpson from behind and stabbed Simpson in the neck right beneath the chin, Dozer said. The autopsy showed the wound was an inch to an inch-and-a-half deep.
“Friends and onlookers didn’t immediately realize the nature or severity of the attack,” he said.
Simpson walked a few steps and was feeling his neck, and many realized what was happening when they saw the blood.
Witnesses reportedly saw Robles walk to the car with the girls and drive away, and saw Gallegos running to Cliff Drive from his spot at the picnic table, where he was quickly picked up by the car.
Some witnesses made the determination that it was two separate men who fought Simpson and later stabbed him, and the prosecution will argue that it was Gallegos who was fighting and Robles who was the stabber.
Both young men have distinctive tattoos on their heads and necks, which led authorities to them. Many witnesses also saw them leave in the white car, which was later identified as Weiler’s.
Gallegos was arrested in this case since witnesses recall a young Hispanic man with a “P” tattooed on his face and lips tattooed on his neck. Gallegos, or “Rascal,” is a member of the Westside Projects.
Robles, or “Wacko,” has a large “WS” on his head and “Tiny Locos” in cursive. He appeared in court Wednesday with longer hair, pulled back into a short ponytail, and wore a suit at the table with his attorney.
Gallegos told authorities that Robles was the one who stabbed Simpson. Gallegos is now a witness for the prosecution.
Robles was later arrested at a friend’s home in Ventura, and has been in custody at the County Jail ever since.
For his opening statement, Balash asked the jury to keep an open mind until the very last witness has finished testifying.
“Simpson was stabbed by a Westside gang member — OK,” he said. “This is going to test your ability as a jury: Which one?”
Both men were active gang members, he said. Some witnesses say Gallegos was very belligerent that day and was flashing a knife, while Robles was the “quieter, nicer guy,” Balash said.
“Rudy (Gallegos) will no doubt come in, raise his right hand and promise to tell the truth,” he said. “However, I believe you’ll hear a recording of the entire interview, and evidence shows that Gallegos can and will lie when necessary.”
At first, Gallegos and his mother both insisted he had been at Bible study at the time of the stabbing.
The timeline is critical for this case, Balash added, but many witnesses were intoxicated the day of the stabbing and their statements changed over time.
“The evidence will show it could have been either Rudy or Adrian,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough call because you are not just the crowd on the street anymore, you’re the jury. And if you don’t know which of the two did it, all you can do is go for not guilty — and that’s what we’re asking of you.”
Weiler, who was 19 when arrested, has since pleaded no contest to charges of accessory to murder for her role in driving the car away from the crime scene. Ochoa, who was 17 at the time of the crime, was also charged in connection with the case.