Jurors began deliberating Friday after weeks of testimony in the murder trial of Adrian Robles, a 22-year-old man accused of fatally stabbing 44-year-old Robert Burke Simpson at Arroyo Burro Beach on April 15, 2010.
Santa Barbara County Chief Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer argued that he has met the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Robles murdered Simpson.
His main points rely on the jury agreeing that the man who physically fought Simpson after an argument was a different man than the one who made the fatal blow to Simpson’s neck with a knife.
The arguments occurred between Simpson’s group — an older crowd of surfers and frequent beachgoers — and Robles’ group, young adults who live in Santa Barbara and are allegedly associated with the Westside gang.
Evidence, including fingerprints lifted from beer cans at the beach, points to Robles at the beach that day with friends Rudy Gallegos — the alleged fighter — and two women, Brittany Weiler and Vanessa Ochoa, Dozer said. Gallegos testified in this case against Robles, and both women were charged with accessory to murder.
Witnesses took down the license plate of a white car — Weiler’s — leaving the scene and remembered two tattooed Hispanic males with two women, which eventually led law enforcement officers to these four.
The prosecution argues that it was Robles who made “one quick blow, one deadly punch,” and that his membership in the Westside gang contributed to his actions.
Dozer called it a “cowardly act,” coming from behind after the physical fight between Simpson and Gallegos was over, and brazen, since it occurred in broad daylight in front of many people.
Robles had malice aforethought — a prerequisite for a murder conviction — in his use of the knife and location of the strike, which severed the jugular and almost cut through the carotid artery, Dozer said. Even the passers-by who were trained nurses couldn’t save Simpson, he added.
“Robert Simpson died in the arms of his friend, Ed Maginnis,” Dozer said.
The jury is being asked to consider first-degree murder with personal use of a knife and a gang-related special circumstance, and whether Robles was an active participant in a criminal street gang.
Defense attorney Steve Balash conceded the latter in his closing argument.
Robles’ mother and younger brother are documented gang members, according to law enforcement testimony, as are Gallegos’ siblings.
“Yeah, yes, (Robles) is a gang member” Balash said. “And I’m not a bleeding heart, but I just ask myself, what chance do these kids have? I’m not going to stand here and say he’s not guilty of count two; that’s a waste of your time and my time.”
However, the jury cannot use Robles’ involvement in the gang as evidence that he committed the murder, he noted.
He argued that either Robles or Gallegos could have done it, but the evidence doesn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was Robles.
Balash asked the jury to find Robles not guilty of murder.
“It’s tough, but it’s not really up to you to try and achieve social justice; the evidence is what it is, and it’s just not conclusive,” he said.
In his rebuttal argument, Dozer pointed to the physical evidence.
A cross pendant belonging to Gallegos was found in the area of the fight, and his mother had the broken chain, he noted.
On the hood of Weiler’s car, authorities found a handprint of Robles’ and a small amount of blood determined to be Simpson’s. There was never “one scintilla of evidence” that indicated Gallegos was in contact with the front of the car, he said.
“This is like a calling card,” he said. “This is a calling card of the victim’s blood with the name Adrian Robles right below it.”
The 12 jurors started deliberations Friday afternoon and are scheduled to continue Monday morning.