Wednesday, October 17 , 2018, 5:57 am | Fair 50º

 
 
 
 

Witnesses Take the Stand in Hearing for Murder Suspect Adrian Robles

Testimony sheds light on events leading up to the attack on Rob Simpson at Arroyo Burro Beach

Witnesses took the stand during a preliminary court hearing Thursday for murder suspect Adrian Robles and described the events leading up to the April 15 stabbing death of Robert Burke Simpson.

Simpson, 44, died after being stabbed in the neck at Arroyo Burro Beach, and eyewitness accounts led to a getaway car and the detainment of four initial suspects. Three people, including 20-year-old Robles, have been charged in connection with the case, as they were together at the beach and in the vehicle leaving the scene.

The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to continue with the case.

Robles has pleaded not guilty to all charges, which include murder with gang-related special circumstances and allegations.

Brittany Danielle Weiler, 19, the accused driver of the getaway car, has pleaded no contest to charges of accessory to murder and is awaiting sentencing. Defendant Vanessa Ochoa, 18 but a juvenile at the time of the crime, is facing the same charges as Weiler.

The other man in the car, who testified as a witness for the prosecution on Thursday, is not being charged in connection with the murder. He was initially arrested on suspicion of committing the murder. He will be referred to here as the male witness, as Senior Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer has requested discretion for the witness’ safety during this stage of the proceedings.

Dozer “couldn’t say” whether the male witness has made any kind of deal with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office in exchange for his testimony.

“The consequences for Adrian Robles are a potential life sentence ... the influences of the street are greater than if the person faced a probationary period or jail time,” Dozer said. “The pressure witnesses feel is not inconsiderable. They do risk retaliation.”

Ochoa and the male witness testified in court Thursday, as did multiple members of the Sheriff’s Department and the Santa Barbara Police Department, who were the first responders to the scene.

Through all of their testimonies, a vague picture of April 15 began to appear. The two involved parties, Ochoa and the male witness, were reluctant to answer questions, and their answers were often inconsistent with others’ testimony and the details from their interviews with law enforcement officials.

According to testimony from the male witness, the four friends drove to Arroyo Burro Beach together, bought beer and spent time in the picnic bench area, some of them drinking and smoking marijuana. At some point, Robles was involved in a verbal argument — allegedly with name-calling — with Simpson and another man near the restroom, at which time the male witness walked over.

“We were both drinking and he was calling me names,” the male witness said of Simpson. “I didn’t like what he was saying, you know?”

He ended up in a physical fight with Simpson on the grassy area nearby, and Simpson fell after a few blows. However, Simpson “did some Jackie Chan move or something and put me on my back,” at which point Simpson got up and said the fight was over, and the witness agreed.

Ten to 20 minutes later — exact time lines are fuzzy — Robles got into a confrontation with Simpson, during which he appeared to hit Simpson in the neck or face and then ran away, the male witness said.

According to Ochoa’s testimony, Ochoa, Weiler and Robles walked to the car without the male witness, who joined them as they were leaving.

She said she didn’t know why the initial physical fight occurred, but that she saw a glimpse of it around the time the other three carried the leftover beer to the car. There was no discussion of a possible stabbing when the four of them were in the car, she said. The two men were dropped off after leaving the beach, on the Mesa and on the Westside. Ochoa said she didn’t hear about the stabbing until the next morning.

When all four of the involved parties were in Weiler’s car, Robles allegedly held up a sharp object of some kind for a brief time, which may or may not have been a knife and may or may not have had blood on it, according to the male witness, who then reportedly told Weiler to let him out of the car — which she did, somewhere on the Mesa.

Detectives and deputies testified that some eyewitness statements supported the basis of the testimony from the primary witness — that the man fighting Simpson was not the same man who stabbed him a few moments later. The results of photo and live lineups were mixed, as most people didn’t make a positive identification, but chose the involved parties because they “looked most like” the people they saw April 15. Some witnesses chose entirely different individuals from the lineups, according to Robles’ defense attorney, Steve Balash.

Balash also cross-examined the male witness. Noting that the witness was the last to get into the car, he asked if it was true that he had stabbed Simpson, given the possible humiliation of losing a fight to an older man in front of his friends.

“Did I stab him? No,” the man testified. He admitted lying to detectives when first questioned by authorities — he said he went to the beach by himself to study the Bible — because he was nervous, but that he decided to tell the truth after a conversation with God.

“Then you spoke to God, and then you told the truth? Was that before or after they told you you’d go down for murder?” Balash asked. The male witness said he thought about it from the time he was picked up by authorities, but “didn’t listen.”

Various eyewitness accounts, as relayed by deputies and detectives in court, included a very specific vehicle description, tattoo and basic body-type descriptions of the two men and two women, and an outline of events of the physical fight, brief break and then the stabbing.

The car, driven by Weiler, was described to Santa Barbara police Officer Brian Larson by several witnesses as a white four-door Nissan Altima, and other passers-by picked up a license plate number. The investigation and records checks connected the car to Weiler.

Larson was one of the first responders to the call, which was initially dispatched as a fight call that changed into a code three (lights and sirens) stabbing call. Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Harris was also on the scene quickly after the stabbing, and said he encountered one witness in shock with blood on her hands, face and clothing.

“She witnessed someone being stabbed in the neck” and was crying, nauseous and unable to concentrate, he said.

That woman and other witnesses described two Hispanic young men of similar sizes with distinctive tattoos — one had a “P” on his face, and the other had a spider-web-like tattoo on his head — that led to the investigations of the male witness and Robles.

The death was investigated as a gang-related crime, as the male witness’ “P” tattoo represents the Westside Projects, a sect of the Westside gang, and a “WST” for Westside tiny locos, or tinies, was drawn into the dust on Weiler’s car windshield when deputies arrived at her house hours after the stabbing. Both men are allegedly involved with criminal street gangs, and the male witness said he joined at age 13.

Superior Court Judge Brian Hill continued the hearing until 9:30 a.m. Friday, where sheriff’s gang unit Detective Jarrett Morris will continue his testimony relating to the behavior of local criminal street gangs, especially the two most active sects of the Westside. Afterward, Balash will be given the opportunity to present his witnesses.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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