Five men convicted of committing nine murders and other crimes linked to the violent criminal gang known as MS-13 are scheduled to be sentenced May 16 in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.
Judge John McGregor and attorneys set the sentencing hearing date on Monday after the jurors returned additional guilty verdicts for allegations related to the use of a firearm and gang participation.
Those verdicts were in addition to dozens of guilty verdicts read in court for three hours last week.
The judge had earlier decided to split the case because of changes in the law, leading to the jurors first deliberating multiple murder and conspiracy to commit murder charges before considering the other matters.
Verdicts marked the end for the trial that began with jury selection on Aug. 1 and ended with the verdicts earlier this month.
“I am very grateful and thankful for the hard work the jury put in, and on behalf of the victims and law enforcement and the DA’s Office we feel they were held accountable and that justice was done,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen, who prosecuted the case along with colleague Peter Telesca.
During next month’s sentencing hearing, family members of victims are expected to make victim impact statements.
The defendants, their gang monikers and attorneys are: Juan Carlos Urbina Serrano (“Peligro”), 33, represented by Steve Balash; Marcos Manuel Sanchez Torres (“Silent”), 27, represented by Stephen Dunkle; Luis Mejia Orellana (“Smiley”), 28, with attorney Chris Ames; Tranquilino Robles Morales (“Bandit”), 37, with attorney Andrew Jennings; and Juan Carlos Lozano Membreno (“Psycho”), 34, represented by Adrian Andrade.
The five defendants will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
They were among those arrested in March 2016 during the Santa Maria Police Department-led Operation Matador and indicted months later by a Santa Barbara County Criminal Grand Jury.
The five men, plus three others on trial in Santa Barbara, were charged with killing nine men ranging in age from 17 to 29 in the Santa Maria Valley between May 2015 and January 2016.
They are Oscar Joaquin, 17, Brayan Mejia Molina, 18, Ulises Garcia-Mendez, 17, Modesto Melendez, 25, Augustin Jamie Montano-Barajas, 29, Donacio Morales Suarez (Alexis Morales), 25, Javier Murillo-Sanchez, 23, Aaron Hernandez Sanchez, 23, and Abrahan Rojas Najera, 21.
Charges related to the 2013 killing of a 10th victim, Michel Raygoza Hernandez, 24, connected to one defendant were dropped, but the death was cited to prove the defendants’ pattern of behavior.
Prosecuting attorneys also contended that the defendants intended to kill 14 other people in the Santa Maria Valley and Oxnard. At least six of the slayings were halted by law enforcement officers who learned of the planned killings after wiretap operations.
Four other defendants took plea deals ahead of the trial, along with those in a related case with fewer defendants facing lesser charges.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.