A Santa Barbara jury convicted 23-year-old Adrian Robles of first-degree murder Monday for the fatal stabbing of Robert Burke Simpson at Arroyo Burro Beach two years ago.
After deliberating less than a day, a jury in Santa Barbara Superior Court also found Robles guilty of special circumstances related to the murder – personal use of a knife and committing the murder while a member of and for the benefit of a criminal street gang – and street terrorism for his participation in the Santa Barbara Westside gang.
The verdicts, which were read in the courtroom of Judge Brian Hill, came after two months of trial.
Jurors heard closing arguments and began their deliberations on Friday.
Both Robles and Simpson were at the beach with friends that day, and the stabbing came after a verbal and physical altercation between members of the two groups, according to testimony.
Hill scheduled Robles’ sentencing for Feb. 26, when he will face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Both Chief Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer and defense attorney Steve Balash were surprised by the fast verdict, especially after two months of trial.
“When a jury has a clear avenue of evidence that points beyond a reasonable doubt to guilt, apparently they can come to that decision more quickly than I expected,” Dozer said.
The defense argued that Rudy Gallegos, Robles’ friend with him at the beach that day who reportedly fought with Simpson, was the stabber.
Authorities even detained Gallegos and interviewed him before arresting Robles.
“In a case like this, when you recognize that there is someone else the jury could focus on, and the person the jury would be focusing on is someone law enforcement focused on, it makes it a more difficult task to make the jury focus on the right person,” Dozer said.
Gallegos’ testimony was “indispensable,” he said.
Gallegos received no plea deal in connection with this case – the two women involved were both charged with accessory to murder.
“There’s nothing. Rudy Gallegos is getting on with his life and I wish him well.”
Testifying against a fellow gang member for a serious case like this could have serious – even deadly – repercussions, he noted.
Most of the gang violence in Santa Barbara is gang-on-gang, which made this case unique.
However, “murder is murder,” and people should be concerned with public safety regardless of who the crimes involve, Dozer said.
He thinks the most important piece of physical evidence was the spot of Simpson’s blood on the hood of the getaway car next to Robles’ palm print, Dozer said.
He called it a “calling card.”
The case would have been much more difficult without physical evidence like this, just working off of various eyewitness statements, he said.
On hearing the verdict Monday, Balash said he intends to file some motions relating to this case.
“It was a challenge, obviously,” Balash said.
He was assigned to the case after the Public Defender’s Office had a conflict of interest.
“There was a lot of evidence and, needless to say, I think everyone was surprised by the quickness of the verdict,” he said.
“We’ll keep fighting,” he said.
“In order to reach this verdict, they would have to ignore evidence, such as the testimony of Ed Maginnis, who said that stabbing occurred 20 seconds or so after, the guy was still on the ground,” Balash said. “I don’t know. Obviously, the judge asked them several times if they had had enough time to deliberate, and they said yes.”
The court reporter had prepared to read back the testimony of four witnesses, but was never asked to, he added.
Simpson’s family and friends have attended the trial almost every day, but many couldn’t be present in time for the verdict to be read.
Robles’ mother started to cry as “guilty” was read by the court clerk.
There will be a hearing on Friday in Hill’s courtroom to determine whether Robles’ 2008 conviction for witness intimidation counts as a strike under the Three Strikes Law.
However, Dozer said the results won’t affect sentencing for the murder, since it already includes a life sentence.