Judge Rick Brown ruled Thursday afternoon that the prosecution team did not withhold information from defense attorneys in the trial of six men charged with torturing and murdering Anthony Ibarra in 2013.
“I find no Brady violation whatsoever,” Brown said, referring to the legal phrase stemming from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the prosecution’s suppression of evidence favorable to the defense violates due process.
Brown noted that even if he found in favor of the defense, “it wouldn’t undo the (grand jury) indictment” of the murder defend
“I don’t see how procedurally there could be a motion to set aside the indictments because that ship has long sailed,” Brown said.
The matter came up during witness Marissa Escobar’s testimony, when she claimed to have told Senior Deputy Defense Attorney Ann Bramsen and detectives that she was high on methamphetamine while testifying to the grand jury in May 2013.
Escobar, who testified to being present when Ibarra was killed, said she made the revelation to Bramsen recently.
The witness, who was identified as Jane Doe during her grand jury testimony, is being named in court, where the defendants’ family members and others are watching proceedings. She is part of the California Witness Protection and Relocation Program.
The Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge halted the trial proceedings Thursday, and Chief Deputy District Attorney Paul Greco was called to the Santa Maria Juvenile Court, where the case is being held.
Greco represented his office in interviewing witnesses, including Bramsen, Santa Maria police Detective Andy Magallon and others in the room during Escobar’s alleged admission.
Defense attorneys argued for the special hearing outside of the jury’s presence, contending that Bramsen didn’t share the information about Escobar’s meth use. This, they said, could lead to a mistrial or allow them to impeach the witness.
“We were not aware she related that to the prosecution team,” defense attorney Tom Allen said.
Had they known about the alleged conversation, defense attorneys said, they would have acquired experts to testify about how meth affects someone’s memory.
After further questioning of Escobar, the judge agreed to hold the extra hearing with Greco representing the prosecution.
“I don’t think it is as complex as you’re making it out to be,” Brown said.
In the afternoon, Bramsen testified that the meeting with Escobar a month ago included a quick conversation about how much better she looks now. Escobar mentioned a November 2013 sobriety date.
“We never talked about the grand jury at all,” Bramsen said, adding that she told Escobar she figured she had been using.
During her opening statement Monday, Bramsen had told jurors drug use was commonplace among those involved in the case.
“You’re going to find out during this case everyone smokes meth all the time,” she said Monday.
After that recent meeting with Escobar, Bramsen said Thursday, she sent an email with details to the defense attorneys.
Following Brown’s ruling, defense attorney Michael Scott noted the police detective had said he didn’t hear Escobar make the statement.
“That impeaches her,” Scott said.
When defense attorney Addison Steele asked if the judge’s ruling meant he was finding Escobar not credible, the judge responded, “I’m finding Ms. Bramsen did not commit a Brady violation.”
Defense questioning Thursday centered on inconsistencies in Escobar’s testimony and her interactions with the individual defendants.
In response to the inconsistencies, Escobar said, “It means I am human,” she said, adding, “I know what I heard. I know what happened.”
Defendants in the case include 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.
Testimony will resume Friday morning in the trial that is expected to last several months.