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5 Men Found Guilty in Santa Maria Torture-Murder Case

Jury in Ibarra case returns guilty verdicts against five of the six defendants

Ramon “Crazy Ray” Maldonado, right, was in court Tuesday to hear the verdicts against him and five co-defendants in the 2013 torture and slaying of Anthony Ibarra. Maldondo and four others were found guilty of murder; the jury could not reach a decision for the sixth defendant.
Ramon “Crazy Ray” Maldonado, right, was in court Tuesday to hear the verdicts against him and five co-defendants in the 2013 torture and slaying of Anthony Ibarra. Maldondo and four others were found guilty of murder; the jury could not reach a decision for the sixth defendant. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Five men charged with the gang-related torture-murder of Anthony Ibarra two years ago in Santa Maria were found guilty by a Superior Court jury Tuesday afternoon, culminating a case that involved what authorities called a monumental investigation followed by a lengthy trial.

Jurors returned from deliberations with guilty verdicts for first-degree murder for alleged shot-caller Ramon ‘Crazy Ray” Maldonado,  39;  his father David “Pops” Maldonado, 57; Santos “Lil Tuffy” Sauceda, 35; Reyes “Pumpkin” Gonzaless, 44; and Jason Castillo, 31. 

Quiet crying could be heard among the defendants' family members as the various verdicts were read.

The jury couldn't agree on charges against the sixth defendant, Anthony “AJ” Solis, 30, and a mistrial was declared in his case. 

However, a short time later  Solis pleaded guilty to kidnapping and admitted an allegation of gang involvement.

He is expected to receive a nine-year prison sentence when he returns to court July 31, Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen said.

The panel did not reach a verdict on the two counts of witness intimidation against Ramon Maldonado, who was accused of threatening two residents of the house where the attack took place, and a hung jury occurred on some other special allegations against multiple defendants.

A mistrial was declared on those charges as well, and Bramsen later moved to dismiss the allegations and additional charges, noting the men all face mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole.

The six men were charged in connection with the brutal assault and killing of Anthony Ibarra, 28,  in a house at 1142 W. Donovan Road on March 17, 2013.

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

After the verdicts were read, the prosecutor met privately with the victim's family members, who attended part of the trial.

“I'm thrilled that the jury saw the truth, and the victim and his family finally have justice,” Bramsen said. “It’ll never bring him back, and it will never make what happened OK, but at least five individuals were held accountable for his murder and will never be able to hurt anyone again."

Judge Rick Brown set May 22 to hear any motions for a new trial. Once he rules on the motions, the five men, who all remain in custody, will be sentenced.

Verdicts were reached Tuesday morning for five of the six men, and Brown ordered the panel to continue deliberations on Solis' case. 

When the panel returned, Brown sent them back to deliberate further since several forms were not filled out properly.

The jury returned to the courtroom again at about 2:25 p.m. The jury foreman had said the panel was divided and unable to reach a unanimous verdict, with eight of the 12 members voting that Solis was guilty of first-degree murder.

Prosecutors say Ibarra was killed because he owed thousands of dollars for drug debts. Some of the defendants allegedly are gang members while others have been labeled gang associates for their interactions.

Jury selection in the trial began Nov. 17, with opening statements held in January, followed by weeks of testimony from dozens of witnesses.

The prosecution used cell phone records, texts, fingerprints and DNA in addition to data from a GPS tracking bracelet worn by Ramon Maldonado, who was on probation at the time.

The brother and sister who lived at the house also testified about the attack, or what the prosecutor called a coordinated attack involving luring the victim to the house, hiding before he entered and assaulting him soon afterward. Ibarra was assaulted again in the back bedroom.

The assailants used fists, a belt, a screwdriver and other weapons to commit the murder, the prosecution contended.

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.

Defense attorneys contended that someone other than their clients delivered the fatal blow to Ibarra, mentioning the house's residents along with a co-defendant who testified for the prosecution.

Questions about what time the victim died also came up during the trial since defense attorneys contended their clients had left the house. A prosecution witness said he could not pinpoint time of death to narrow the window as seen on television shows and films. 

"I thought the issues regarding the science, in terms of the time of death, were critical issues, so I think the science should have trumped the testimony of three unsavory characters (as) witnesses," said defense attorney Adrian Andrade, who represented Castillo.

Andrade added that he appreciated jurors' hard work in trying to understand the evidence. 

"I think you see a reflection of them not being able to come to an agreement on a whole lot of things — on the gang allegation, on the torture allegation at least with respect client Jason Castillo," Andrade said. 

Defense attorney Addison Steele, who represented Solis, questioned how the jury could find three witnesses — the brother and sister who lived at the house plus a co-defendant — credible. 

“It’s disappointing that they believed them,” Steele said. 

Since his client has two years credit for time served and is expected to serve 85 percent of his 9-year sentence, Solis likely will spend approximately five more years in prison.

“I think it’s a fair outcome,” Steele said. “I was prepared to try the case again. However, if I try the case again, there’s always the risk of life without parole, and it’s difficult for somebody to not settle a case for nine years when they’re looking at the possibility of life without the possibility of parole.”

With so many participants in this case — including defendants, attorneys and support staff — the trial was moved to Santa Maria Juvenile Hall, where a jury box was added to accommodate the 12 members and six alternates.

Meanwhile, jury selection had to be held at the Santa Maria Fairpark due to logistical matters because hundreds of potential panel members were called for the case.

In all, jury selection spanned 27 days, testimony covered 37 days and closing arguments lasted five days for the trial with 38 witnesses in addition to 640 exhibits entered into evidence, the judge noted, praising the panel for showing up on time and being focused throughout the lengthy trial.

"You've been a jury on an extraordinary case. ...You basically were deciding six cases at the same time," Brown said.

Eleven people originally were charged in the case.

One of the other five is Ramon "Lil Ray" Maldonado Jr., the teen son of Crazy Ray and grandson of Pops, whose case was ultimately resolved through the juvenile court process although it had been handled in adult court for several months. 

Two of the others, Verenisa Aviles and Carmen Cardenas, pleaded no contest, while the remaining two men, Robert Sosa and Pedro Torres, pleaded guilty.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley commended the Santa Maria Police Department and Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department "for their outstanding work on this monumental investigation."

“This investigation and prosecution shows that the District Attorney’s Office and law enforcement will not tolerate gang violence in our community," Dudley said. "Our office is committed to seeking both justice for crime victims and a just punishment for perpetrators.

"Thanks to the tireless efforts and commitment to public safety by our law enforcement partners and Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen, these violent individuals will never be able to harm another person in any community again.”   

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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