Two trials are now underway in Santa Barbara County for the multi-defendant criminal case linked to 10 local homicides and other crimes allegedly committed by MS-13 transnational gang members.

The Santa Barbara trial, which has three defendants after two pleaded guilty to attempted murder charges, has been in jury selection for months and started Friday with opening statements from prosecutors with the District Attorney’s Office. The trial has 12 jurors and 12 alternate jurors.

The Santa Maria trial, with five defendants, started in November and has had various COVID-19-related delays.

Law enforcement officers say the men belong to the violent criminal gang known as Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, and the local group is known as Santa Maria Little Salvi Locos Salvatrucha (SMLS’LS).

Chief Deputy District Attorney Kelly Duncan and colleague Lynmarc Jenkins are leading the prosecution team for the Santa Barbara trial.

The three men facing trial in Santa Barbara are Jose Ricardo Saravia Lainez, represented by attorney Billy Redell; Jose Balmore Saravia Lainez, represented by Ron Bobo; and Jose Narciso Escobar Hernandez, represented by Meghan Behrens. Jose Ricardo Saravia Lainez and Jose Balmore Saravia Lainez are brothers.

In opening statements Friday, Duncan talked about a string of Santa Maria shootings and victims allegedly connected to the defendants in this case. Law enforcement personnel linked bullets recovered during autopsies and at shooting scenes to guns discovered during the investigation and arrest searches, Duncan said.

All of the deceased and surviving victims of the shootings were “actual or perceived rival gang members,” she said.

Early trial testimony in Santa Maria provided details about how law enforcement officers linked the killings to the defendants, including wiretapping suspects’ phones and sifting through social media posts and texts.

Duncan showed some of those messages during her opening statements, including some that referred to their victims as “chickens” that they were going to “turn into soup.”

Two trials were ordered for logistical reasons after court executives determined no existing courtrooms could accommodate the many participants required for a 10-defendant trial. 

The Santa Maria trial is in progress in Santa Maria Judge John McGregor’s courtroom. The prosecution team for the Santa Maria trial includes Ann Bramsen and Peter Telesca from the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office. 

The five defendants in the Santa Maria case and their attorneys are: Luis Mejia Orellana, represented by attorney Chris Ames; Marcos Manuel Sanchez Torres with attorney Stephen Dunkle; Tranquilino Robles Morales, represented by attorney Andrew Jennings; Juan Carlos Urbina Serrano with attorney Steve Balash; and Juan Carlos Lozano Membreno with attorney Adrian Andrade.

Other defendants related to the investigation’s criminal cases have taken plea deals, Noozhawk North County Editor Janene Scully has reported.

Opening statements are scheduled to continue Tuesday for the Santa Barbara trial in Judge Michael Carrozzo’s courtroom.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.