Defense attorneys told a Superior Court jury on Monday that witnesses in the kidnapping and torture case against Raymond Daniel Macias and Luis Alfredo Almanza were career criminals whose testimony shouldn’t be trusted because they sought to protect themselves.
Michael Scott, who represented Macias, and Charles Biely, who is Almanza's attorney, gave their closing arguments in the case in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in Santa Maria before Judge Patricia Kelly.
The jury of seven women and five men began deliberating Monday afternoon, but didn’t reach a verdict before quitting for the day. The panel is scheduled to resume deliberations Tuesday afternoon.
Macias and Almanza were charged in connection with the Jan. 3, 2013, kidnapping and torture of Lompoc drug dealer who used the moniker Sicko. The case led to grand jury indictments against 11 people, authorities announced in June 2013.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen said Macias was a top-ranking gang leader in Santa Barbara, who set up the attack because the victim hadn’t paid the required “taxes” to the Sureno gang and then hid from those trying the collect the money, a significant act of disrespect.
Almanza, also known as Lucky, was the gang enforcer, and allegedly used a hatchet to injure the victim’s arm and torso, according to prosecutors. Almanza came to the Central Coast from Texas where he reportedly was in a gang.
Scott admitted that Macias sold drugs and belonged to a gang, but said his client wasn’t some movie character as the prosecutor portrayed him.
“Mr. Macias is not Scarface,” Scott said. “He is not wandering around with automatic weapons dispatching his rivals, cutting throats, killing people or ordering people to be killed. He was, and I believe the evidence shows, a weak leader, not a brutal leader.”
Macias was a weak leader who gave second chances, Scott added.
“He was too lenient, too compassionate,” Scott said. “He gave people passes for infractions rather than inflicting brutal punishment.”
Macias showed up to the crime scene unaware the others had already attacked the victim, according to Scott, who said his client only wanted to talk to Sicko about his debt and never ordered the attack.
“Lucky went off the rails,” Scott said. “His conduct was a shock to all who were present. It was so bizarre and completely unexpected.”
Both defense attorneys urged the jury to doubt the testimony of the witnesses, many of whom were involved in the attack on the victim but received reduced sentences for testifying. Many of them were indicted by the grand jury alongside Macias and Almanza.
“Can you believe any of these men? Of course not,” Scott said.
In her rebuttal, Bramsen agreed the witnesses were career criminals.
“Of course they are. That’s why they’re involved with these two defendants,” she said, adding that law-abiding people wouldn’t be involved with them.
Biely, Almanza’s attorney, said his client was supposed to collect “taxes” in Lompoc, but was ineffective at the job. Biely also denied his client was part of the gang’s upper management, as the prosector alleged.
Biely said a recorded conversation between Almanza and a witness about making Sicko “go to sleep,” taking him to a ranch, setting him on fire and burying him, was nothing more than a “stupid statement.”
Yet Bramsen said it’s unreasonable to think Almanza was “just kidding” when he mentioned the detailed plans for the victim.
Biely also noted the lack of forensic evidence on the hatchet and in the garage where the attack occurred, and questioned the arm and torso injuries received by the victim.
“We don’t have any medical evidence,” Biely said.
But Bramsen said gang members typically don’t seek medical care unless their injuries are extreme. She also said the DNA levels obtained from the crime scene were too low for scientific identification.
Macias is charged with kidnapping for extortion, torture, solicitation for extortion and sale of methamphetamine.
Almanza is charged with the kidnapping for extortion, torture and use of a deadly weapon.
Both men also face gang enhancements.