Thursday, January 18 , 2018, 10:15 am | Fair 62º


Local News

Arraignment Delayed Again for Defendants In MS-13 Murder Case

A Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge said Friday that the dozen defendants in a case linked to multiple gang-related homicides and attempted homicides in the Santa Maria Valley may enter pleas in February.

The accused, who were indicted in July 2016 by a criminal grand jury, made a brief appearance before Judge John McGregor on Friday before the arraignment hearing was continued again.

The judge and attorneys agreed to tackle other matters, including scheduling dates to submit and rule on motions and more Jan. 19 at a case management conference. The continued arraignment hearing was set for Feb. 16.

Seventeen months ago, a Santa Barbara County criminal grand jury indicted the defendants in the complex case linked to 10 slayings in the Santa Maria area.

Defense attorneys are expected to submit motions attacking the prosecution’s case on a variety of legal issues.

Due to concerns about pre-trial publicity, the judge ordered pre-court filings to be sealed.

A few months earlier, in March 2016, Santa Maria police-led a multi-agency effort, dubbed Operation Matador, that culminated with arrests in Santa Maria, Oxnard, Kern County and Ohio.

The accused now face 50 charges related to the deaths of 10 people and allegations of conspiracy to murder 14 other victims.

Authorities contend the defendants committed the crimes on behalf of MS-13, short for Mara Salvatrucha, a violent international gang.

Two defendants left in the smaller related indictments involving lesser charges also were in a court for a brief hearing.

The judge said he will hear a motion Jan. 12 on defense attorney Gary Dunlap’s request to withdraw from the case.

The defendant, Rafael Castro, privately hired Dunlap after he initially was represented by a court-appointed attorney.

Friday’s hearing occurred the same day President Donald Trump said at the FBI Academy that MS-13 gang members should be thrown out of the country instead of jailed.

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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