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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 11:49 pm | Fair 52º


MS-13 Defendants Make Brief Court Appearance

One Santa Barbara County Superior Court trial date has been scrapped and another scheduled for two defendants in a case related to 10 slayings in the Santa Maria Valley.

On Friday, Judge John McGregor presided over the hearings related to the men allegedly connected to the violent international criminal gang known as MS-13.

While the larger case with 12 defendants continues to inch through the system, a smaller case with two defendants now could go to trial in late August, after attorneys and the judge agreed to scrap a July date.

But defense attorney Gary Dunlap, who represents Rafael Lainez Castro, said a trial might not occur.

“We are very close to resolving this, I hope,” Dunlap said, adding that his client still was considering whether to accept the deal, which was not revealed.

His client is scheduled to return June 19 for a readiness and settlement conference. 

If a deal is not reached, the trial now is set to start Aug. 27.

Castro and co-defendant Jose Mejia Orellana, represented by Harold Mesick, are scheduled to return to court July 20 for another readiness and settlement conference.

In July 2016, multiple people were named in separate grand jury indictments, with those in the larger case facing 50 charges related to the deaths of 10 people and allegations of conspiracy to murder 14 other victims. 

Defendants in the smaller case face assorted lesser charges.

The two cases stem from Operation Matador, led by the Santa Maria police and involving multiple law enforcement agencies when undertaken March 3, 2016, with arrests in Santa Maria, Oxnard, Kern County and Ohio.

Months later, after hearing weeks of evidence, a criminal grand jury handed down indictments against the men alleged to have ties to the violent criminal gang dubbed MS-13, and also known as Mara Salvatrucha. 

The large case, with 12 defendants, also is scheduled to return to court July 20 as attorneys and the judge continue to handle pre-trial motions and other matters. A trial date for that case has not been set.

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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