A criminal grand jury handed down indictments Wednesday against nine people who prosecutors say are responsible for the brutal torture and slaying of a Santa Maria gang member earlier this year.
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley announced the indictments Thursday, along with her decision not to seek the death penalty against any of those accused in the torture and killing of Anthony Ibarra.
Indicted for murder and conspiracy to commit murder were Ramon Maldonado, Reyes Gonzales Jr., Santos Sauceda, David Maldonado, Robert Sosa, Anthony Solis, Verenisa Aviles, Ramon Maldonado Jr. and Jason Castillo, Dudley said.
Seven of the defendants — Ramon and David Maldonado, Gonzales, Sauceda, Sosa, Solis and Castillo — also were indicted on special allegations of lying in wait, torture, kidnapping, and for committing the crimes in furtherance of a criminal street gang.
Ramon Maldonado faces an additional count for witness intimidation with a gang enhancement.
Two other suspects — Carmen Cardenas and Pedro Torres — were indicted for being accessories after the fact to murder with the gang enhancement.
Ramon Maldonado Jr. is a new suspect in the case, and is a 14-year-old who is being tried as an adult, Dudley said.
He is the son and grandson of two other suspects, and turned himself in to Santa Maria police on Wednesday.
The investigation into Ibarra’s death began the evening of March 18, when officers were called to the 1100 block of Donovan Road near Blosser Road in Santa Maria after a citizen reported a “possible violent crime” had taken place at a residence there, according to Santa Maria police.
No body was found at that time, and the investigation continued into the following morning, when sheriff’s personnel located a vehicle believed to be involved — a U-Haul truck — on Los Padres Street in Orcutt.
Ibarra’s body was found inside.
The slaying, which is believed to have taken place on Sunday, March 17, was carried out by “very violent street-gang members,” according to Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin.
Ibarra, 28, appeared to have been tortured over a two- to three-hour period, Martin said, and an autopsy showed he died of a stab wound.
Martin did not describe the nature of the torture, although sources have told Noozhawk that Ibarra was attacked with a screwdriver.
Authorities have not offered a possible motive for the killing, but have said it was carried out for the benefit of the Sureno criminal street gang.
Sources also have told Noozhawk that investigators are looking at several possible motives relating to gangs, drugs and a lover’s triangle.
Dudley said she chose to go to the grand jury for indictments because a preliminary hearing — held to determine if there is enough evidence to warrant a trial — would have been slow and unwieldy with the large number of defendants in the case.
“With that many attorneys, there could be multiple requests for continuances, and with a case like this, justice delayed would feel like justice denied to this community,” she said.
The 19-member criminal grand jury met in secret earlier this week, hearing the allegations from prosecutors and testimony from witnesses. The defendants and their attorneys did not attend.
If convicted of the charges against them, Ramon and David Maldonado, Gonzales, Sauceda, Sosa, Solis and Castillo face possible sentences of life without the possibility of parole, Dudley said.
Ramon Maldonado and Aviles face possible sentences of 25 years to life if convicted. Cardenas faces a maximum sentence of seven years and Torres faces a maximum term of 10 years.
Dudley said she considered “the underlying facts and factors” of the case in deciding not to seek the death penalty.
“Those factors included the prior criminal history of the defendants, their ages, and their relationship to Anthony Ibarra,” Dudley said.
She declined to elaborate.
Dudley did note that life without parole “is a significant punishment,” adding that the death penalty “is rarely executed, causing the victim’s families to be denied any sense of closure; and, instead be subjected to decades of appeals and mounting frustration.”
The defendants were scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Superior Court in Santa Maria.