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Prosecutor: Evidence to Show Six Defendants’ Roles in Gang Torture-Murder

Testimony to begin Tuesday in case against Ramon Maldonado and 5 other men accused in gang-related crimes in Santa Maria

Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen on Monday outlined her case against six alleged gang members on trial for the torture-murder of Anthony Ibarra in 2013. (Frank Cowan / Noozhawk photo)

Using fists, a belt, a screwdriver and a machete, six Santa Maria gang members brutally tortured and killed Anthony Ibarra in 2013 because of his drug-related debts.

That was the scenario outlined Monday by Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen on the first day of a murder trial in Santa Barbara Superior Court.

Opening statements from the prosecution and defense took place in Santa Maria Juvenile Court in Orcutt, where the trial has been moved due to the large number of defendants.

Trial started after jury selection, which began Nov. 17, wrapped up last week.

Evidence will be presented starting Tuesday in the trial before Judge Rick Brown, which is expected to stretch into the spring. 

Bramsen told the jury she will prove the case using GPS tracking from the chief defendant’s probation bracelet, assorted cell-phone calls, witnesses’ testimony, and DNA evidence found at the murder scene.

Ibarra, 28, was killed in a house at 1142 W. Donovan Road, in north Santa Maria, on March 17, 2013, authorities said.

His body later was found in a U-Haul rental truck parked on a street in Orcutt.

“It was determined he was covered in injuries from head to toe,” Bramsen said.

The victim had 11 stab wounds, blunt-force trauma, puncture wounds and sharp-force trauma. He was struck in the jugular vein and ultimately bled to death.

“Anthony Ibarra also had very significant trauma to his head that is consistent with being beaten on the head with a belt buckle,” Bramsen said.

The defendants are alleged shot-caller Ramon Maldonado, his father, David Maldonado, Reyes Gonzalez, Santos Sauceda, Anthony Solis and Jason Castillo. 

They are charged with first-degree murder in addition to lying in wait, kidnap, torture and gang involvement, in addition to a special allegation for being involved in a crime for the benefit of criminal street gang.

In addition, Ramon Maldonado, 37, faces two counts of witness intimidation.

His son, Ramon Maldonado Jr., now 16, will be tried separately but as an adult. The teen is scheduled to next appear in court later this month.

Four other defendants — Pedro Torres Jr., Carmen Cardenas, Verenisa Aviles and Robert Stan Sosa — accepted pleas in the case and are expected to testify for the prosecution.

Physical evidence will place the defendants inside the home where Ibarra died, Bramsen said.

For instance, DNA reportedly belonging to Ramon Maldonado was found on a latex glove and an empty beer can in the house. His GPS monitor — he was on probation at the time— pinpointed his location as being at the Donovan Road address, Bramsen said.

His father’s DNA reportedly was detected in a cigarette in a beer car in the kitchen. Gloves were found in David Maldonado’s blue van.  

Likewise, a collection of DNA, fingerprints, text messages and phone calls tie the other suspects to the crime, according to Bramsen.

The prosecutor also told the jury most of those involved belong to local criminal gangs and are part the Surenos, which reports to the Mexican Mafia.

“They are the most violent, ruthless prison gang in our system,” she said, adding that the money-making schemes are centered on selling drugs and collecting taxes from drug sellers.

Ibarra, who sold and used methamphetamine, often was fronted drugs with the expectation he would pay for them later.

“What Mr. Ibarra failed to do is he failed to pay,” Bramsen said. 

In addition to physical evidence, Bramsen said witnesses, including a brother and sister who lived at the Donovan Road home, will testify about the day Ibarra was summoned there, severely assaulted by the defendants and ultimately died.

On March 17, 2013, Ramon Maldonado, known as Crazy Ray, and three other defendants showed up at the Donovan residence, wearing black cotton gloves over blue latex gloves.

Crazy Ray instructed the woman who lived at the house to call Ibarra under the pretense of wanting to buy drugs. Once Ibarra arrived, the group began hitting him before taking him into a bedroom to continue the attack.

“She will tell you she will never forget what she heard and it plays over and over in her mind,” Bramsen said, adding the witness will recall hearing Ibarra begging for his life, and the grunting of at least one man involved in delivering the brutal blows. 

The brother and sister were warned against notifying police.

“Mr. Maldonado told them they were not to tell anyone about what had happened, that there would be repercussions,” Bramsen said. 

Police only learned of the bloody mess more than a day later when a man who rented the garage at the home saw Ibarra’s body lying on floor and told his manager, who notified officers. 

Santa Maria police swere dispatched to the West Donovan Road residence, where they discovered evidence of a violent crime but no body.

What they found was blood on the walls and soaked into the carpet, so much so officers inadvertently tracked it throughout the house even 24 hours later, Bramsen said.

There was “so blood much at the scene they know somebody’s been killed but they don’t know who,” she added.

By chance, a Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department deputy working on another case recalled seeing a U-Haul truck at the West Donovan Road address, and alerted Santa Maria police colleagues upon learning they were investigating a crime scene there.

Investigators went to U-Haul and learned who had rented the truck, which was later found parked in Orcutt with Ibarra’s body inside.

Defense Tom Allen, who represents Reyes Gonzalez, told jurors the evidence will show his client is not guilty. (Frank Cowan / Noozhawk photo)

Defense Attorney David Bixby, who represents David Maldonado, postponed his opening statement until the start of the defense case, but the others spelled out the reasons why their clients should be found not guilty.

Defense attorney Michael Scott, who represents Ramon Maldonado, said his client was at the house, but had left.

“My client was there earlier before he died,” Scott said. 

He contended the prosecution’s “soft evidence” is “riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions.”

Tom Allen, who represents Gonzales, also said the evidence regarding his client also would show contradictions and inconsistencies. 

Allen noted that his client wasn’t the last person left at the house, and that Ibarra had owed money to a lot of people.

He urged the jury to evaluate witnesses, especially those who “got a pass,” referring to the brother and sister who lived at Donovan house and were put into the California Witness Protection program.

Frederick Foss, who represents Sauceda, noted that many of the witnesses were involved in the drug business like Ibarra. 

Addison Steele, who represents Solis, said his client had never been involved in a gang and that AJ is his “regular nickname, not a gang moniker.”

In fact, before Ibarra’a attack, Solis got “checked” or beaten up for his own debts. 

Steele noted the defendants who accepted the plea deal are getting a “sweet deal.”

Castillo’s attorney, Adrian Andrade, said the Donovan residence was a well-known party house, but said those involved didn’t know his client’s name, dubbing him “long-haired guy.”

“When you’re not someone that they know, it’s easy to blame because you’re not one of them,” Andrade said.

He told jurors that once they have heard all the witnesses, they will not see enough evidence to find his client guilty.

“He was merely there,” Andrade said.

At the start of the day Monday, Brown rejected a defense motion for a change of venue.

Andrade said the length of time it took to pick a jury proved how news reports saturated the community.

“It was overwhelming,” Andrade said. 

Bramsen said she found it remarkable how few people were affected by the pretrial publicity. 

“There were numerous potential jurors who had never heard of the case,” Bramsen said.

Brown agreed.

“I appreciate you declaration, but I don’t think it paints the entire picture,”  Brown said, adding he stood by earlier ruling to reject a change of venue request.

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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