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Teen Convicted in Linares Murder Handed 17-Year Prison Sentence

Ricardo Juarez, 15, will spend two years in a youth correctional facility before moving to a state prison.

A Superior Court judge on Friday handed a 17-year prison sentence to Ricardo Juarez, the 15-year-old boy convicted in the fatal stabbing of 15-year-old Luis “Angel” Linares on State Street during an afternoon gang brawl nearly two years ago.

Juarez, who was 14 at the time of the crime, is the youngest person in Santa Barbara County history to be tried and convicted for a serious crime as an adult. Juarez will spend the next two years in a youth correctional facility, and when he turns 18 will begin serving the remainder of his time in state prison.

Judge Brian Hill’s sentence was much stiffer than the minimum possibility of granting Juarez parole, but was a half-decade shy of the 22-year maximum.

Hill said that although he believes Juarez feels genuine remorse, he also believes that the sentence is commensurate with the weight of the crime. Deputy public defender Karen Atkins said she plans to file an appeal on the sentence. Hill on Friday also rejected Atkins’ motion for a new trial.

The sentence came after tearful testimonies from members of the Linares family, as well as a statement from Juarez, read by Atkins. Throughout Friday’s proceedings, Juarez sat still and poised, occasionally turning around in his chair to face, with somber, unblinking eyes, members of the Linares family as they testified.

“There are no words for me to describe how my entire family has been destroyed,” said Linares’ father, Humberto. “I mean, there’s no words.” Speaking to Hill, he added, “You’re the only hope at this point to bringing just a little relief on the family.” Midway through his statement, he broke down, and Senior Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer read the rest of it into the record for him.

After handing down the sentence, Hill addressed Juarez directly, issuing an admonishment in an even-keeled voice, and letting the former Eastside gang member know that the sentence could have been worse.

“Mr. Juarez, you committed a great wrong,” he said. “It’s inflicted great harm. But you’re going to be out. It’s going to be a lengthy sentence, but it’s not as lengthy as it could have been. … You’re going to be out while you’re still in your 20s.”

(Juarez already has served nearly two years in a juvenile hall facility.)

About 1 p.m. on March 14, 2007, a melee involving around a dozen youngsters from the East and West sides of town broke out on the pedestrian-heavy intersection of Carrillo and State streets. When it was over, Linares, who had been walking with his bicycle with friends from the Westside, collapsed in a planter in the parking lot behind Saks Fifth Avenue, bleeding from multiple stab wounds, the fatal one on his back. He was pronounced dead at Cottage Hospital.

According to witness testimony, Juarez that day had carried with him to the scene a large knife that other members of the gang commonly referred to as “the big one.” Although there is no debate that Juarez stabbed Linares, disagreement persists on whether he inflicted the fatal wound. While the prosecutors believe that he did, the defense believes that it was a boy named Ricardo Romero, known as “Stomper,” then 13, who received nine years in the Department of Juvenile Justice. All told, about 10 youngsters received various forms of punishment, but only Juarez was tried for murder as an adult.

The killing sent shudders through the community, which has since witnessed two other teen-on-teen murders in a similar vein, and begun searching for ways to stem the violence. To date, most of the recent gang-related bloodshed in Santa Barbara has occurred among young teens, who seem driven not by the organized drug trade or financial interests, but by childish territorial concerns.

On Friday, Dozer sought to make the case that Juarez should receive the maximum penalty, in part to send local gang members the message that it no longer will work to let the younger kids perform the dirty deeds.

Many older gang members, he said, believe that they should “have the kids do the crime, because they won’t do the time.” Friday’s sentence, he said after the hearing, is sending just the opposite message: “If the kids do it, they are going to get sentenced as adults.”

Atkins, on the other hand, doesn’t believe that the teens will get the message. “The adults hear that message, the kids do not hear it,” she said. “The adults want to issue the message and repeat the message, and say it louder and harsher and more clearly, but the children … are not hearing it.”

In her arguments, Atkins sought to show that most young teenagers have yet to develop the mental capacity to make mature decisions, especially in the heat of the moment. As a result, she said, they are more susceptible to impulsive behavior and peer pressure than are adults, and are therefore less culpable for their actions.

On the fateful day, she said, Juarez was egged on by peers, some of them older. She argued that no evidence has suggested that Juarez and his friends made elaborate plans to kill someone, saying they had been hanging out at a house earlier that day. She said Juarez made the impulsive decision to head to State Street only after learning that someone in that area had spat on his girlfriend. Moreover, she said, Juarez and his friends had been drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, further impairing their judgment.

On Friday, Atkins brought in a clinical and forensic psychology expert who had given Juarez a psychological examination. Dr. Rahn Minagawa of San Diego testified that he is able to predict with statistical reliability whether adolescents who engage in criminal activity are at risk of becoming lifetime criminals, or are passing through a phase. Minagawa said that based on his evaluation, he believes that Juarez is passing through a phase, and so should be granted the most lenient sentence — probation.

“He wasn’t getting into trouble when he was in kindergarten, first grade, second grade — he was actually a very obedient child,” Minagawa said. “Prior to this offense, he has done very well at home and in school.”

On Friday, Atkins argued that the intent of Proposition 21 — the 2000 ballot measure granting prosecutors the ability to charge juveniles age 14 or older as adults in serious crimes — was to protect the public from “violent, repeat, serious juvenile offenders.” She said that given Juarez’s history, he is unlikely to be a repeat offender.

“When I mention to people the range of sentencing he is facing, if not granted parole, it takes their breath away,” she said. 

Dozer, meanwhile, argued that instead of being a passive player succumbing to the whims of peer pressure, Juarez had assumed a leadership role in the lead-up to the crime.

Dozer said that was demonstrated by how Juarez was given the knife known as “the big one.”

“That was the status within the gang,” he said. “Give the big one to somebody who would want to commit the big act.”

He also argued that instead of engaging Linares in a face-to-face fight, Juarez caught the unarmed boy from the side.

“There was never any kind of testimony that (Linares) took any kind of aggressive posture,” he said. “His movements were consistently described as defensive.”

Dorez added that Juarez was not remorseful until later that day, when he learned Linares had died.

Dozer argued that the age of Linares is as valid as the age of Juarez, so the significance of their ages, in effect, cancel each other out. Put another way, Dozer contended that the judge needn’t give much consideration to Juarez’s age when rendering a sentence.

He also sought to undermine Minagawa’s testimony through a line of questioning that revealed that the psychologist was paid $200 an hour to evaluate Juarez and travel, and $350 an hour to testify.

In the end, Hill acknowledged arguments made on both sides of the case. In a nod to the defense, he agreed that young teens lack the maturity to appreciate the true dangers of gang activity. Hill also said he believes that Juarez feels remorse, and to demonstrate read a few quotes from Juarez in a testimony to a probation officer: “He died for nothing — for not reason. I wish I could take it back.”

Overall, Hill seemed more in agreement with Dozer. He concurred, for instance, that the ages of the boys cancel each other out. He also accepted Dozer’s argument that Juarez had assumed a leadership role that day.

“Although there was another person who may have been involved in the stabbing,” he said, “there was certainly overwhelming evidence that the defendant, Ricardo Juarez, was the first person to stab anyone.”

Hill gave Juarez six years for voluntary manslaughter, 10 years for committing the crime for the benefit of a street gang and one year for the use of a knife.

The sentence was unsurprising to prosecutors and the defense, because it matched the recommendation of the parole department.

On Friday, Atkins read from a statement that Juarez had written: “I feel sorry for Angel and his friends. I feel bad for his parents because they don’t have their kid no more. I also feel bad because they won’t be able to see him grow up. …Sometimes I feel angry with myself because I didn’t make the right choice in life. I just thought about myself, and didn’t realize the other people I was hurting, such as my family and friends.”

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