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Suspect in 2009 Fatal Stabbing in Santa Barbara Will Face Competency Trial

Andrew Balderaz is accused of murdering 22-year-old Baldemar Leal, whose body was found on De la Vina Street

A man facing murder charges in a 2009 stabbing in Santa Barbara will face trial later this year to determine whether he is mentally competent.

Andrew Balderaz, 35, was arrested along with five others for the alleged murder and conspiracy to commit the murder of 22-year-old Baldemar Leal, whose body was found in February 2009, face down along the sidewalk on the 400 block of De la Vina Street with multiple stabs wound on his upper torso. 

Santa Barbara police have said that all of the suspects were connected to a local criminal street gang, but have not revealed which gang.

While the other suspects have either had their cases dismissed or been sentenced to prison time, Balderaz has been evaluated by a series of doctors to determine whether he is competent to face criminal proceedings.

Balderaz’s attorneys have argued that he has a developmental disability, and two doctors have agreed, while a third felt he was competent. Because of the split, the issue will go to trial in December, when either a judge or a jury will decide on the issue, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer, who is prosecuting the case.

If Balderaz is found competent, his criminal proceedings will move forward. If not, he’ll be referred to authorities at the Tri-Counties Regional Center, who will determine an appropriate course of action, and have the discretion whether to put him in a locked facility.

“Balderaz has always been the person we believe wielded the knife that stabbed Ben Leal to death,” Dozer said, calling Balderaz the “major participant” in the crime.

Three others who were also arrested in 2009 — Imelda Nava Guevara, David Anthony Martinez and Jonathan Alonzo — all entered guilty pleas on Monday to conspiracy to commit assault, as well as the actual assault on Leal. 

Guevara faces 11 years in prison, and Martinez and Alonzo will serve nine years. Because all three have been in custody since 2009, Dozer couldn’t say how long they’ll actually be in prison.

Two other women were initially arrested in connection with the case. Michelle Murillo Flores pleaded guilty to conspiracy, and Liliana Arryaga had her connection in the case dismissed because the evidence wasn’t there to connect her to the crime .

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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