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Monday, December 10 , 2018, 6:08 am | Fair 50º


Court Official Says Jury Turnout as Expected for Ibarra Case in Santa Maria

The first week of jury selection for a Santa Maria trial with six defendants has ended with more than 200 people available for questioning from attorneys and another pool of potential candidates lined up for next week in the event more are needed.

The week began with 2,100 potential jurors summoned for the trial of the men charged in connection with the gang-related torture-slaying of Anthony Ibarra, 28, of Santa Maria in March 2013.  The Santa Barbara County Superior Court trial is taking place at the Santa Maria Fairpark to accommodate the large group. 

Six men —  Ramon Maldonado; his father, David Maldonado; Jason Castillo; Reyes Gonzalez; Santos Sauceda; and Anthony Solis — are charged in connection with torture-slaying to Anthony Ibarra, 28, of Santa Maria in a West Donovan Road house. Ibarra’s body was later found in a U-Haul rental truck parked on a street in Orcutt.

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

Ramon Maldonado’s teenage son, Ramon Maldonado Jr., will be tried separately from the others but has been charged as an adult.

By the time the judge dealt with hardship pleas — due to medical problems, financial concerns or pre-paid vacation plans — approximately 230 potential jurors remained when defense attorneys began their questioning Thursday for the trial that could last through March.

“I’m happy with the numbers we got,” said Darrel Parker, court executive officer. “That’s exactly what we planned for.”

Between 149 and 168 people showed up each of the first three days, although 700 were summoned for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Earlier in the week, defense attorney Tom Allen expressed concern about the low turnout. Allen noted Friday that “nobody has answered why only approximately 20 percent has showed up.”

“To have 75 or 80 percent (not show up), that’s extraordinarily high but I don’t know what to attribute it to,” Allen said.

He speculated the unusual reporting location — the fairgrounds, not a courthouse — may have led some potential jurors to identify the case ahead of time.

Judge Rick Brown rejected a defense request for a hearing on the matter.

For several reasons, Parker said, he never expected 700 people to show up the first three days.

First, a number of people requested deferrals even before they were scheduled to report for jury service, Parker noted.

Additionally, court officials recognize that a certain number of mailed summonses don’t reach people because they moved and didn’t file a change of address form for their driver’s license or voter’s registration information. Some reports claim the bad addresses can mean that as many as 20 percent of the summonses don’t reach the person it’s addressed to.

The proximity of the holidays — some local schools have Thanksgiving week off — also may have contributed to more people seeking deferrals than normal, he added.

Calculating the various excuses, he estimated the real rate was closer to 50 percent. Still, Parker said that rates are lower than court officials would prefer.

“That’s a disappointing number, but it’s true around the state,” he said, adding some counties's jury commissioners report no-show rates as low as 35 percent while others have rates as high as 75 percent.

The county and courts don’t have a full-time crew to deal with failure-to-appear cases. But, periodic crackdowns on jury service scofflaws lead to increased turnout, several counties have reported.

“That really does improve your yield,” Parker said.

Those who ignore a call to report for jury service can face their own legal troubles. 

“The court conducts failure-to-appear hearings several times throughout the year where persons who failed to appear are ordered to show cause why they should not be held in contempt of court and ordered to pay a fine of up to $1,500,” Parker said. “They will then be ordered to serve on the next date necessary.”

The huge group is required for this case since attorneys on both sides are allowed to dismiss a total of 172 potential jurors through pre-emptory challenges. A number also can be removed for various reasons, or cause. On Friday, nine were dismissed for cause and two were dismissed with pre-emptory challenges, Allen added.

In the event more jurors are needed, Parker said approximately 500 additional candidates are due to report Monday, with some of those expected to be made available for the torture-slaying trial. Another jury trial is scheduled to begin in a different courtroom Monday so some people will be needed for that case.

Parker said he had placed another panel on call “just in case the judge wasn’t happy with the turnout.”

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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