The fate of three defendants suspected of murder will be before one South Coast jury later this week. Closing statements in the case began Monday.
The trial revolves around the death of George Ied, a case that has been before the jury for more than a month as they consider the evidence.
Three suspected gang members face murder charges in the attack on Ied, 36, who was severely beaten in October 2010. He was walking from his workplace, the Mi Fiesta Liquor store on Milpas Street, to his home on Punta Gorda Street when he was attacked, and was left to die on the sidewalk.
Brothers Ismael and Miguel Parra, and Steven Santana and Michael Cardenas were arrested in the case, and the trial began in February for the Parras and Cardenas. They are facing charges of first-degree murder with gang enhancements and committing a crime to benefit a criminal street gang.
Santana pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and gang-related charges in 2011, and was a key witness for the prosecution at trial. The Parra brothers had been released from prison for crimes uncovered during Operation Gator Roll, which occurred in 2007, and had returned to the community.
Prosecutor Hans Almgren as well as defense attorney Michael Hanley, who is representing Ismael Parra, began closing statements Monday.
Almgren began much as he did in opening statements, by reminding the jury who Ied was before his death.
“His life was cut short by these four defendants,” he said.
There were plenty of inconsistencies with witness testimony from the trial, including from Ismael Parra himself who testified for two days.
The one consistency with Parra and Santana was that Michael Cardenas — known as “Psycho Mike” among other gang members — was the most violent that night, he said.
Santana testified earlier in the trial that Cardenas had “stomped on Ied’s head like he was putting out a cigarette,” Almgren recalled.
The prosecutor showed graphic pictures of Ied in his hospital bed, as well as pictures of his head and face, badly swollen and beaten. It was in that state that he was in the hospital for several days, when his brother Antun had to make the decision to pull him off life support, Almgren said.
Almgren showed multiple photos of Cardenas with wounds on both of his hands and large bruises on his back, indicating that Ied fought back before his death. A coroner had confirmed earlier in the trial that Ied’s hands had been bruised in a way that supported that.
Almgren said that all four of the men intended to assault Ied, but that at least Cardenas had intended to commit murder, and kept beating the man while he was unconscious.
“Why would you keep going on someone whose unconscious unless you wanted to kill them?”Almgren asked.
Santana testified that Cardenas initiated the assault, and asked Ied if he had a few dollars. Ied said something back, after which Cardenas hit him in the face and Ismael Parra also followed to confront the man, and began kicking and stomping on him. Miguel and Santana followed suit, he had testified.
A year before the assault on Ied, there was another assault case linked to Cardenas, Almgren said. Photos were shown of Jimmy Randels, with large amounts of swelling and even a footprint visible on his forehead, wounds given by Cardenas after Randels gave him his wallet.
“The only difference between this case and Mr. Ied’s is that Mr. Randels didn’t die,’ Almgren said.
Even if jurors had questions about Santana’s testimony, the physical evidence is powerful, he said.
Drops of blood were shown going into Miguel Parra’s room, George Ied’s DNA was found on a bedsheet in the room, and IDs for Cardenas and Miguel Parra were found in the room, as if hastily removed from the clothes later burned in a backyard barbecue, he said.
“They start pulling off clothes. ... But they couldn’t get rid of it all, there was just too much blood,” Almgren said.
Ismael Parra had multiple changes to his story and was wearing a tank top with Ied’s blood on it, he said.
Almgren surmised that Cardenas put his hand on a nearby truck to brace himself while kicking Ied. The palm print of Ied’s blood had seven points of agreement with Cardenas’ own print, an expert had testified earlier in the trial.
Attorney Michael Hanley, who is representing Ismael Parra, was next to make his arguments. Hanley reminded them that it took two weeks to select the jury, and that “everyone had a feeling you could be fair and follow the law,” he said.
Hanley said that a murder charge would require premeditation and deliberation, and that Almgren had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt what was in Ismael Parra’s mind before the assault.
Hanley made the case that Ismael actually tried to intervene by running over to Ied, who was being punched by Cardenas and Santana. Ismael allegedly fell on top of Ied and threw a number of punches in order to save face with the other two gang members.
As in his opening statements, Hanley painted Ismael as someone who tried to get away from the gang and made bad choices, including drug trafficking.
“Is he guilty of bad judgment? You bet,” he said. “Murder, no way.”
Hanley said Parra’s hands showed some damage but not as much as Santana’s, and that Ismael is entitled to an acquittal.
“If it’s a doubt in your mind, it’s a doubt,” he told he jury. “That’s the law your promised to follow.”
Hanley took issue with Santana, who said he has a jumped in gang member unlike Ismael Parra, and said that Santana “was the wrong dance partner for the DA.”
Because Santana’s story changed from his initial testimony, “he knows his fate is on the line for him,” Hanley said. “He’s trying to reach law enforcement’s ideal of what happened. ... On that the case rests.”
Closing statements are scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday, and attorneys Adam Pearlman, representing Michael Cardenas, and Sam Eaton, representing Miguel Parra, are expected to issue their closing arguments,