With a possible plea deal in the works, a Santa Maria Superior Court judge on Friday vacated a fall trial date for two men charged in a smaller case allegedly linked to a violent international criminal gang.
Judge John McGregor canceled the planned October start of a trial for Jose Wilfredo Abarca Soriano, 26, and Jose Mejia Orellana, 27.
They were charged with several counts of felony conspiracy to commit a crime, plus allegations the acts helped a criminal street gang.
That case is linked to a larger one involving 12 defendants facing 50 felony charges for 10 slayings and multiple other attempted killings in the Santa Maria Valley.
Both cases arose from the multiple-agency law enforcement operation, dubbed Operation Matador, led by the Santa Maria Police Department and undertaken March 3, 2016, in Santa Maria, Oxnard, Kern County and Ohio.
Months later, in July 2016, a Santa Barbara County criminal grand jury handed down indictments for the two cases.
On Friday, Soriano’s attorney, Patty Dark, said her client would waive his right to a speedy trial for two years.
But Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen said the waiver was linked to the defendant’s request for more time to consider an offer.
A time waiver extending more than two years is unusual and would cause the smaller case to follow the trial for the larger case, tentatively set to start in February and span 18 months.
The plea deal offer for Soriano and Orellana will expire Dec. 31, 2019, Bramsen said, adding they can either accept it or provide a counter offer.
Both Soriano and Orellana, who is represented by Harold Mesick, agreed to waive time for a speedy trial until Dec. 31, 2021.
After the hearing, Bramsen declined to spell out the terms of the offer to the pair.
However, another defendant, Rafael Lainez Castro, who was facing similar charges in the case, took a plea deal last fall after months of negotiations, landing an 8-year prison sentence.
He was sentenced to six years in state prison plus waived his two years of credit for time served in Santa Barbara County Jail since his arrest in 2016, adding up to an eight-year sentence.
In the larger case, the judge appointed attorney Andrew Jennings to remain despite his departure from the North County Conflict Defense Team.
McGregor said the case is complicated by the large volume of discovery and filed motions, which would make switching attorneys problematic at this late point.
Michael Scott, from the North County Conflict Defense Team, said the massive discovery would take 18 months to prep for trial.
The Santa Barbara County Public Defender’s Office has declared a conflict on the case, so the North County Conflict Defense Team has had two attorneys assigned in the larger case.