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2,100 Called for Anthony Ibarra Torture-Murder Trial Jury Selection at Santa Maria Fairpark

With six defendants and a trial expected to last several months, Santa Barbara County Superior Court officials have summoned a huge pool of potential jurors to decide the fate of the men charged in the alleged gang-related torture and slaying of Anthony Ibarra last year in Santa Maria.

Court officials recall that the last time such a large pool of prospective jurors was needed was in 2005 for King of Pop Michael Jackson’s trial on child molestation charges.

In all, the county has ordered 2,100 North County residents to report for possible jury duty starting Monday, with 700 per day for three days.

By comparison, the Jackson trial called more than 4,000 people, but that high number is partially due to the fact the court had just switched to a one-step summons process.

“We didn’t know what we didn’t know what the consequences of that were,” said Darrel Parker, executive officer of the Superior Court.

The Ibarra trial’s length, number of defendants and high-profile nature add up to the reason the court has summoned more people than usual.

Because of the sheer numbers, the county has rented two facilities at the Santa Maria Fairpark for jury orientation and selection.

The hope is that a larger facility, instead of a traditional courtroom, will avoid extending the selection process.

“If we do it in small groups it would take a lot longer,” Parker said.

Six men and one teenager will stand trial in connection with the March 2013 killing of Anthony Ibarra, 28, of Santa Maria. Ibarra’s body was found later in a U-Haul truck parked in an Orcutt residential neighborhood.

Charged are Ramon Maldonado; his father, David Maldonado; Jason Castillo; Reyes Gonzalez; Santos Sauceda; and Anthony Solis. Ramon Maldonado’s teenage son, Ramon Maldonado Jr., will be tried separately from the others.

Four other defendants — Verenisa Aviles, Carmen Cardenas, Robert Stan Sosa and Pedro Torres Jr. — accepted pleas in the case.

Judge Rick Brown will preside over the case. He’s familiar with the assorted aspects since he has handled pre-trial matters while filling in on the bench due to a judicial vacancy in Santa Maria. Parker gained permission to keep Brown on loan in Santa Maria for the duration of the trial.

“To have another judge come up to speed on it seems taxing,” Parker told Noozhawk.

Other Santa Maria locations for jury selection were rejected because they would have required renovations or been too costly to lease.

The Fairpark also comes with adequate parking and fencing to serve as a temporary court facility.

Parker said court staff has laid out a replica courtroom at the Fairpark, with a judge’s bench, makeshift jury box and separation between the well and audience gallery.

Security equipment — an X-ray machine and metal detector, like those found outside regular county courtrooms — also is in place.

“We’re in good shape,” Parker said.

Brown is expected to first deal with those who need to declare hardships — such as for financial, school, medical or prepaid vacation reasons.

For the Jackson trial, the judge granted deferrals for 90 days when people declared a hardship, summoning them months later for shorter trials.

The addition of a temporary courtroom has led court officials to shut down the second-story entrance at the Santa Maria Court Complex so security staff can be redeployed to the Fairpark rather than hiring additional security personnel.

“That will save us thousands of dollars,” Parker said.

The trial will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Brown agreed to defense attorneys’ request and will allow two Wednesdays off each month.

Once a jury and alternate jurors are selected the trial is expected to be moved to the Santa Maria Juvenile Court facility on California Boulevard in Orcutt.

Meanwhile, Parker continues to meet with contractors related to improvements needed for the juvenile courtroom.

Since juvenile cases don’t have juries, the courtroom will need to have seating added for the panel that will decide the fate of the defendants.

Most of that work will occur off-site so installations will take just a couple of days, according to Parker.

He said he also plans to recycle seating from another court facility.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully 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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