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Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 1:17 pm | Fair 62º


Santa Maria Judge Hears Juror Hardship Pleas in Multiple-Defendant Trial

Would-be jurors cited a litany of hardships ranging from health ailments, scheduled medical procedures and prepaid vacations as a Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge dealt with deferrals Monday in a Santa Maria trial with multiple defendants.

Six men will stand trial for the torture-slaying of Anthony Ibarra, 28, of Santa Maria in March 2013. He allegedly was attacked in a house on Donovan Road and his body was found in a U-Haul rental truck parked on a street in Orcutt.

The number of defendants and 2,100 people summoned for potential jury service mean the first part of the trial is taking place at the Santa Maria Fairpark.

On Monday, Judge Rick Brown efficiently handled the various requests to defer jury service as candidate after candidate cited numerous excuses. 

The trial is expected to last three to four months, according to earlier estimates.

One man has a seriously ill baby. Another has a scheduled procedure to remove a large cyst causing him headaches. Another has a mother undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer.

“It’s the length of the trial that’s a concern,” one man told the judge. 

Another woman didn’t speak English well enough to explain her deferral request, so defense attorney Addison Steele stepped up to help translate.

“Well, we didn’t expect that,” the judge noted about the lack of a readily available court interpreter.

A breast cancer survivor has several tests and appointments scheduled in the coming weeks. 

“If everything is OK after all these tests, I would be happy to serve,” she told the judge.

Deferrals ranged from 60 days to eight months with people to be called back for likely shorter trials.

Sympathetic with health issues, the judge was more inquisitive when it came to prepaid vacations, asking when tickets — to the Bahamas, China, Mexico and other locales — were purchased.

“It appears you booked it after the summons went out on this case,” Brown told one woman, later granting a deferral. 

A man planning trips to Alabama and Utah nearly lost his deferral. 

“It would appear you wouldn’t qualify because it’s not a prepaid vacation,” Brown said.

The man explained he had use-it-or-lose-it vacation, and Brown granted a 90-day deferral.

One woman started to explain her connection to someone involved in the case, and Brown cut her off, saying he was only dealing with hardships. 

The same thing happened in the afternoon session as a man claimed he was related to three of the defendants.

“It may sound strange, but I can’t take that today,” Brown said, instructing the man to return Thursday and to return with his juror badge and a packed lunch.

Six men and one teen will stand trial in connection with the gang-related slaying of Ibarra. Charged are the teen’s dad, Ramon David Maldonado, and the boy’s grandfather, David Maldonado, along with Reyes Gonzalez, Santos Sauceda, Anthony Soils and Jason Castillo. 

The teen, Ramon David Maldonado Jr., will be tried in adult court separately from the others. Four other defendants, Pedro Torres Jr., Carmen Cardenas, Verenisa Aviles and Robert Stan Sosa, accepted pleas in the case.

People in the process of moving were excused from jury service — if they told the judge about “concrete steps” toward a relocation out of the county.

A hay farmer said he needed to begin harvesting soon, so Brown deferred service for 60 days.

“I’m going to be optimistic it’s going to be the rainy season,” Brown said.

A specialized math teacher’s explanation it would be problematic to find a substitute able to carry on the complex lessons earned him a deferral until summer.

“The students would suffer the most, yes,” he told the judge.

A helicopter pilot asked to return for service at another time, explaining his firm is bidding on a contract that requires him to be available.

“If I’m gone that long, there’s no way the company will survive,” he said.

Two more groups are expected to show up Tuesday and Wednesday with similar hardship requests to be handled before attorneys on both sides begin their questioning.

The Santa Maria Fairpark’s Fountain Pavilion has been transformed into a makeshift courtroom with the judge’s bench sitting on a raised platform, draped in black bunting. The six defendants and their attorneys are sitting behind long tables, with the prosecutor to their left

Multiple deputies are positioned inside and outside the building.

Court officials rented a second building at the Fairpark to hold jury orientation.

In all, court officials summoned 2,100 potential jurors for this case, expecting the fact it’s supposed to last a few months would prompt a number of hardship requests.

The last time court officials require needing such a large number of jurors was the 2005 Michael Jackson child molestation trial held in Santa Maria.

While the Ibarra case has had a high profile locally, it hasn't received the global awareness of the trial for the international pop star. 

“This case doesn’t come anywhere near that,” Courts Executive Officer Darrel Parker 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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