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Closing Arguments Begin in Gang Torture-Killing Trial

Defendant Santos Sauceda sits with his attorney, Fred Foss, in court on Tuesday. Sauceda is one of six men on trial for the death of Anthony Ibarra in March 2013.
Defendant Santos Sauceda sits with his attorney, Fred Foss, in court on Tuesday. Sauceda is one of six men on trial for the death of Anthony Ibarra in March 2013. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

On the second anniversary of Anthony Ibarra’s death, a prosecutor told a jury Tuesday that physical evidence corroborated witnesses’ testimony about the brutal gang-related assault for which six men are on trial in Santa Maria.

Closing arguments began Tuesday morning in Santa Maria Juvenile Court after more than nine weeks of testimony and nearly the same number for jury selection for the trial of six men charged with first-degree murder and several special allegations.

Pausing to look at the clock in the afternoon, Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen noted that the time of 1:49 p.m. marked to the minute the anniversary of Ibarra’s arrival at the West Donovan Road residence.

“Two years ago today, he walked into an ambush and was murdered in that house,” Bramsen said, calling it a coordinated effort to lure Ibarra to the home.

Police initially arrived at the house to find a bloody crime scene but no body. The 28-year-old man’s body was found a few days later in a U-Haul truck parked on a street in Orcutt.

Prosecutors contend Ibarra owed the gang thousands of dollars for drug debts.

“He was absolutely brutally beaten by these men,” Bramsen said.

An autopsy showed the extent of the attack, including 11 stab wounds plus blunt force trauma, puncture wound trauma and sharp wound trauma. Weapons reportedly used in the attack included fists, a screwdriver, a belt buckle and more.

“He had wounds all over his body,” Bramsen said.

Defense attorneys have suggested others, including a key prosecution witness who is in the California Witness Protection and Relocation Program and a co-defendant who testified for the prosecution in exchange for a deal, killed Ibarra.

The prosecutor noted that witnesses included a drug dealer, a thief and a drug addict.

"You don't have any angels as witnesses in a gang case," she said. "There's a reason for it."

Bramsen noted that cell phone records and GPS tracking equipment connected the six defendants to the crime in addition to fingerprints and DNA evidence. 

“People can lie, but physical evidence never lies,” Bramsen said.

For instance, the DNA of lead defendant Ramon Maldonado, the alleged shot-caller, was found in a blue latex glove. Witnesses claimed several of the defendants showed up at the West Donovan Road house wearing black cotton gloves over blue latex gloves.

“Physical evidence exactly matches what our witnesses are telling you,” Bramsen said. 

A witness recalled being given a bloody machete to hide, which he claimed to have later stashed under a shed at his young daughter's house.

“If it wasn’t true, why in the world would he tell us he hid the bloody machete at his daughter’s house?" Bramsen asked.

The prosecutor identified the evidence against each defendant, noting that the jury must return individual verdicts.

Another defendant, Santos Sauceda, had been looking for Ibarra who was in hiding due to his debts. In late January 2013, Sauceda wrote a letter noting Ibarra was “out there burning people. The outcome doesn’t look good for them.” 

Sauceda reportedly spotted Ibarra in Lompoc weeks before the attack, but the man successfully escaped.

A witness told of Sauceda giving a bag of clothes to burn after the March 17, 2013, attack.

When he was arrested March 21, 2013, Sauceda reportedly said, “They are on to us. It’s over,” Bramsen noted. “Clearly an admission of guilt.”

“Significant concrete evidence” also links defendant Reyes Gonzales to the crime scene, Bramsen said.

In addition to evidence on beer cans in the house, Gonzales’ fingerprint was found on a piece of glass recovered from the master bedroom where the attack reportedly occurred.

“Remember, he is in the house with Anthony Ibarra for hours,” Bramsen said.

Defendant Jason Castillo reportedly told Gonzales, “It’s done,” after being in the back bedroom with the victim. At that point, Gonzales allegedly said it was time to leave the house.

“Jason Castillo spends more time with Anthony Ibarra in the hours before his death than anyone,” Bramsen said.

The prosecution contends Castillo administered the deadly hits with the screwdriver.

Other defendants in the case are Ramon Maldonado’s father, David Maldonado, plus Anthony Solis.

Bramsen is scheduled to continue her closing arguments Wednesday and will be followed individually by six defense attorneys.

Also Tuesday, Judge Rick Brown dismissed an alternate juror who was sick. The trial began with the usual 12 jurors plus six alternates due to the expected length of the case. This was the first dismissal.

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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