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Man Faces Life in Prison for 2009 Gang Stabbing in Santa Barbara

A Santa Barbara man implicated in a 2009 fatal gang stabbing has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, and could face life in prison as a result.

Andrew Baldarez's plea stemmed from an altercation that took place the night of Feb. 21, 2009, when Baldemar Leal was stabbed to death in the west downtown neighborhood.

In addition to the murder charge, Baldarez also admitted the killing was done for the benefit of the Westside criminal street gang, according to a statement from the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office sent out Tuesday.

The office also stated that Baldarez admitted committing two prior felony convictions, including two separate charges of assault with a deadly weapon, one from 1992 and another from 1998.

The incident that left Leal dead shook neighbors and sparked several gatherings to protest gang violence in the area.

Prosecutors stated that Leal, who was not believed to have any gang affiliation, had been called the night of his death by Michelle Flores-Murillo, who told him to meet her at 8:30 p.m. at Brownie’s Market on Cottage Grove and De La Vina Streets.   

“Defendant Imelda Guevara, an “associate” with the Westside Gang, instructed Michelle Flores-Murillo to make a call to Baldemar Leal so that he could be assaulted for perceived “disrespect” towards Flores-Murillo,” the statement said.  

“The exact motive for luring Baldemar Leal to Brownies Market is not clear, as former defendants gave different motives for the crimes.”

Defendants and Westside Gang members David Martinez, Jonathan Alonzo and Baldarez assaulted Baldemar Leal with their hands and fists upon his arrival at Brownie's Market.  

Baldarez later stated that Imelda Guevara had approached him and others to “rough up” a person she was having a problem with.  

Baldarez stated that he “just snapped” and began “hitting” Leal multiple times with a knife.

Leal died as a result of being stabbed multiple times, the statement said.

Baldarez will be sentenced on Feb. 29 before Judge Michael Carrozzo, who is expected to sentence thim to 25 years to life in prison.

Prosecutor Hans Almgren said that that the others charged in the incident also served time, and that Alonzo, Martinez and Guevara were each sentenced to nine years in prison.

Flores-Murillo served over 1,000 days in jail and received probation in the case.

The case was handed to multiple prosecutors, and the number of defendants as well as a competency hearing held on Baldarez's behalf were all factors in the amount of time it took to fully prosecute the case, Almgren said.

District Attorney Joyce Dudley praised Almgren’s prosecution, as well as the work of the Santa Barbara Police Department.

“Gang violence continues to plague our county and it can only be stopped by a combination of education, intervention and prosecution,”  Dudley said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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