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Defense Witnesses Testify in Ibarra Murder Trial

A judge denies additional motions to drop charges against the defendants, and a jail buddy of one of the men takes the stand

Ramon Maldonado listens as his attorney asks a question Monday during the trial for the death of Anthony Ibarra in March 2013. Maldonado is one of six men on trial in Santa Maria.
Ramon Maldonado listens as his attorney asks a question Monday during the trial for the death of Anthony Ibarra in March 2013. Maldonado is one of six men on trial in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Defense attorneys in the trial of multiple men charged with the gang-related torture-murder of Anthony Ibarra two years ago called witnesses Monday aimed at raising doubts about earlier testimony linking the defendants to the crime. 

Monday marked the official start of the defense case in the trial since the prosecutor rested her case on Friday afternoon, the end of the seventh week of testimony.

Ramon Maldonado, his dad, David Maldonado, Jason Castillo, Reyes Gonzales, Anthony Solis and Santos Sauceda are charged in connection with the death of the 28-year-old Ibarra in a house on West Donovan Road in March 2013. 

Ibarra’s body was found days later in a U-Haul truck parked in Orcutt. Authorities have said Ibarra owed drug debts to the gang.

On Monday, Jose Ramirez-Melgoza, a county jail inmate sentenced to state prison earlier this year for a felony crime involving a different case, said he met Robert Stan Sosa, a co-defendant in the Ibarra murder case who testified for the prosecution, while both were in protective custody. Sosa's deal calls for a 15-year sentence for his role in Ibarra's slaying.

Sosa reportedly told his jail buddy he was looking at taking a deal with prosecutors, Ramirez-Melgoza testified.

"His view was that he had to say certain things in order for him to even receive that deal that he wanted to be on the table," Ramirez-Melgoza said. "He had to say whatever it is that the DA said, and he also did mention that if he didn't say those certain things at trial, that deal would be taken off table."

But Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen asked whether Sosa had related to his jail buddy that the entire meeting between Sosa, her and police had been recorded.

The witness also couldn’t identify who else might have heard the conversation between Sosa and him, although it took place in a big room late at night.

In his criminal case Ramirez-Melgoza was represented by David Bixby, who is the defense attorney in this case for David Maldonado.

Ramirez-Melgoza also said he only mentioned the conversation with Sosa from last summer once his own case was resolved.

“I thought it would be wise,” Ramirez-Melgoza said of the reason he waited.

Throughout the trial, defense attorneys have suggested someone other than their clients killed Ibarra.

Another witness testified about an encounter with Angel Escobar, a resident of the home where the brutal attack took place. 

Luna Foster said on the night of attack she walked with Escobar from the neighborhood near Donovan Road and Blosser Road to buy cigarettes at a convenience store at the corner of Broadway and Bunny Avenue.

En route, Escobar veered off and went elsewhere, giving her cash to buy cigarettes, Foster said. Before leaving, Escobar allegedly told the woman to say he had gone to the store with her.

“The last time I saw him is when we parted ways,” she said.

She said he only told this to a defense investigator recently, and wasn’t clear if she returned a police detective’s call or left a message.

“I have a bad memory,” she said under questioning from the prosecutor. “Things I can remember, I remember.”

Before the witnesses began testifying, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rick Brown denied motions to drop charges against the remaining defendants. On Friday he denied the motion to acquit the lead defendant, Ramon Maldonado.

Defense attorneys argued individually for acquittal, but Brown only agreed to drop a special circumstance of torture for David Maldonado, with the consent of the prosecutor. 

In his opening statement delivered Monday after deferring it weeks ago, Bixby told the jury that several people remained at the house after his client, David Maldonado, left March 17, 2013.

"What transpired after that time, Mr. Maldonado would have no idea," Bixby said, adding that while evidence shows a screwdriver caused the fatal injury who did it was when it was done is not known.

"That still remains a mystery as to this day," Bixby said.

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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