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Local News

Anatomy of a Homicide: Victim’s Body Reveals Extent of Vicious Torture

Medical examiner tells grand jury that Anthony Ibarra suffered before bleeding to death in gang execution

Santa Maria police investigators gather evidence from a U-Haul truck that was found abandoned in an Orcutt neighborhood in March. The tortured body of gang member Anthony Ibarra was discovered in the back.
Santa Maria police investigators gather evidence from a U-Haul truck that was found abandoned in an Orcutt neighborhood in March. The tortured body of gang member Anthony Ibarra was discovered in the back.  (Andrew Gray / KEYT News file photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: This is the second article in a three-part series that offers readers a rare glimpse into the inner workings of organized, calculated street-gang culture — and the killing of a member who dared cross the gang. Click here for the first article. Click here for the third article.

It’s been said that dead men tell no tales, but days after Anthony Ibarra was killed, his battered body gave investigators a disturbing account of his slow and deliberately painful death at the hands of his fellow Santa Maria street-gang members.

The gruesome details of his injuries and slaying are included in the transcript of the criminal grand jury hearings that led to the indictments of 11 people in connection with the torture and murder of Ibarra, 28, on March 17, 2013.

The 932-page transcript, made public earlier this month and obtained by Noozhawk in partnership with KEYT News, includes the testimony of Dr. Robert Anthony, a forensic pathologist with the Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Coroner’s Bureau.

Anthony conducted the autopsy on Ibarra on March 21.

Parts of the grand jury transcript were redacted to protect the safety of four civilian witnesses, but enough remains to draw a clear picture of what police and prosecutors believe happened to Ibarra, whose body was discovered March 19 in the back of a U-Haul truck abandoned on an Orcutt street.

After several days of testimony, 11 people were indicted by the 19-member grand jury on charges including murder, conspiracy, torture, kidnapping and gang enhancements.

Prosecutors have decided not to seek the death penalty, but several defendants face life in prison without parole if convicted.

Under methodical questioning by Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen, Anthony gave the grand jurors a blow-by-blow accounting of Ibarra’s injuries, many of which apparently were intended to inflict as much pain as possible on the drug dealer, whom the gang believed had cheated them on his “drug taxes.”

Ibarra ultimately bled to death after being stabbed in the neck with what almost certainly was a Phillips-head screwdriver, Anthony testified.

Anthony Ibarra
Anthony Ibarra, 28, of Santa Maria, was accused by fellow gang members of not paying “drug taxes” and stealing from the gang. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

Ibarra suffered five such wounds to his neck, Anthony testified. One or two of the stabbings punctured his jugular vein, which caused nearly all of the blood in his body to slowly drain out onto the floor of a house in the 1100 block of West Donovan Road in northwest Santa Maria.

“He has what I feel is a lethal injury in his neck,” Anthony testified. “He does not have a lot of blood in his body (at the time of autopsy), he does not have a lot of lividity (pooling of blood in the body after death).

“So, therefore, where did all that blood go? Obviously it leaked out, and he died from blood loss.”

Police who converged on the home where Ibarra was attacked described a rear bedroom with bloody walls, and with carpet so saturated with blood that detectives couldn’t help tracking it through the single-story house.

“You can state with reasonable medical certainty that the jugular vein was damaged by whatever it was that punctured through that skin, and that that was a very significant injury because the jugular vein is responsible for taking blood from the brain back toward the heart so it can be recirculated and re-oxygenated,” Anthony testified.

He explained that the jugular vein is a “low-pressure” blood vessel, compared to the carotid artery, which is high pressure.

“Unlike the movies, there was no explosion of blood, there was no chicken with their head cut off from this kind of an injury ...,” Anthony testified. “What happened is blood would ooze from this kind of an injury ...

“It is going to be a continuous flow of blood out of those holes and into the surrounding soft tissue, and out along the surface of the neck ... It is very significant because it is unrelenting.”

Anthony Ibarra Torture-Murder House
Anthony Ibarra was attacked by fellow gang members inside this house on West Donovan Road in Santa Maria. A Coroner’s Bureau forensic pathologist testified that the 28-year-old drug dealer suffered a lethal injury to his neck that caused him to bleed to death. (KEYT News file photo)

Eventually, nearly all the blood leaked out of Ibarra’s body, a process Anthony said could have taken 30 minutes to an hour or more.

Before, during and after, prosecutors say, Ibarra was assaulted in numerous ways, including being beaten, kicked, stabbed, struck with a belt, and cut with broken glass.

In addition to the neck wounds, the screwdriver was used to inflict numerous less-serious injuries to various parts of Ibarra’s body, Anthony said.

The puncture wounds “looked like little crosses, every one of them,” he testified.

Pointing to the autopsy photos, Anthony said, “You can see the cross shape. You can see how the edges are irregular, and that day when I saw those injuries, the first thing I thought of was Phillips head screwdriver.”

Ibarra suffered 11 stab wounds that Anthony told the jury were inflicted using a single-edge implement, such as a pocket knife, kitchen knife or steak knife.

The blade, he said, would have to have been at least 3 inches long.

One wound, inflicted early in the attack, caused one of Ibarra’s lungs to collapse, making it more difficult for him to fight back against his assailants.

All the stab wounds undoubtedly were painful, Anthony said, but none would likely have caused his death.

Ibarra also suffered a number of more-superficial stab wounds that Anthony said appeared to have been inflicted just with the tip of a knife.

“These are a whole series of injuries that I associate with a knife, but it is a knife that is just cutting on the surface,” he said.

A pair of 7-inch-long parallel wounds found on Ibarra’s back were consistent with him being cut by a piece of broken glass while he was seated in a chair, Anthony testified.

The condition of Ibarra’s body led Anthony to believe that he was killed before being placed in the U-Haul truck.

He also indicated that some of the injuries occurred after Ibarra had died, possibly as he was being dragged from the house and into the rental truck.

Toxicology tests revealed that Ibarra had a large amount of methamphetamine in his system at the time of this death.

Because meth is a stimulant, this could have caused him to bleed out faster, Anthony testified, but also could have prolonged his suffering.

“Since it is not a sedative, it is not going to put him to sleep, it is going to keep him awake,” he said. “So he is going to be probably more, rather than less, sensitive to inflicted injury.”

Part of Anthony’s testimony goes to a key aspect of the prosecution’s case — the allegation that he was tortured prior to being killed.

Bramsen repeatedly asked whether a particular wound would have been fatal, and also how much pain Ibarra would have felt.

She also asked if Ibarra could have survived the injury to his jugular vein with appropriate medical treatment.

“Yes,” Anthony said, “because we are dealing with an injury that with sufficient pressure against it ,and then getting him to a trauma center, they could replace the blood that is coming out, they could then go in and repair the injury and a person can be saved.”

But evidence in the case indicates no one called 9-1-1. No one applied pressure. No one took Ibarra to the hospital.

Saving him clearly was not part of the plan.

                                                                  •        •        •

[Noozhawk’s note: The defendants in the Ibarra torture-murder are due back in Superior Court in Santa Maria on July 18.]

» Anatomy of a Homicide: Killing of Anthony Ibarra a Calculated Attack

» Anatomy of a Homicide: Execution a Part of Gang ‘Justice’ and Enforcement

» Anatomy of a Homicide: Cast of Characters

» Click here for a related commentary.

» Click here for KEYT News’ report on the investigation.

» Click here for a complete list of charges in the case.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton 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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