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Summer Trial Set Date for 2 Defendants Facing Lesser Charges in MS-13 Gang Murder Case

A summer trial date has been set in Santa Barbara County Superior Court for two defendants in a case related to 10 slayings in the Santa Maria Valley.

The trial for Rafael Lainez Castro, represented by Gary Dunlap, and Jose Mejia Orellana, represented by Harold Mesick, is scheduled to start July 30, the attorneys and Judge John McGregor decided Friday. 

Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen is leading the prosecution team.

In July 2016, the pair plus 12 other defendants 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. Castro and Orellana have pleaded not guilty to lesser charges of conspiracy and denied the special allegations.

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 two defendants and their attorneys are expected to return to court May 18 for another readiness and settlement conference.  

Likewise, attorneys and defendants in the larger case are expected to return to court May 18 for a similar hearing.

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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