A 16-year-old boy has pleaded guilty to murder and other charges for two killings in Goleta last year that authorities described as part of “a drug deal gone bad.”
In January, just over a year after the slayings of Jasper van der Meulen and Enzo Rastelli, the teen admitted the first-degree murder charges in Juvenile Court, according to a statement from the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.
The boy, whose name has not been released because he is a minor, also admitted that he used a firearm during the commission of the murders and that the crimes were committed in association with the Westside criminal street gang in Santa Barbara. He also admitted the special circumstances of multiple murders and gang murders.
Van der Meulen and Rastelli, both local college students, were fatally shot around midday on Jan. 7, 2021, in a vehicle parked on the 600 block of Burtis Street near Hollister Elementary School.
The residential neighborhood where the shootings occurred is south of Hollister Avenue, near San Marcos High School, and backs up to Atascadero Creek and then More Mesa.
The juvenile and two adults — Bryan Munoz and Joshua Isaac Vega — were arrested in early February 2021 and criminally charged in the case.
“It appears as though these murders were the result of a drug deal that went bad, and that the suspects committed a robbery rip-off,” Sheriff Bill Brown said at the time.
He added that the two men who were shot were selling marijuana, and that investigators found about a half-pound of pot at the scene.
Rastelli attended Santa Barbara City College and van der Meulen was a UC Santa Barbara student, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
If convicted as an adult, the teen would have faced a maximum confinement in state prison of 100 years to life, then life without the possibility of parole, the District Attorney’s Office said.
The boy was 15 at the time of the killings. As a juvenile under the age of 16 for the same offenses, there is a “baseline term of confinement” of seven years, with jurisdiction of the juvenile court ending at age 25, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
On Feb. 28, Superior Court Judge Arthur A. Garcia sentenced the minor to a secure youth treatment facility for seven years, not to exceed custody past the age of 25.
The teen will have review periods every six months until the jurisdiction of the court ends. After seven years, prosecutors may be able to petition the court to extend the minor’s commitment.
“In recent years,” according to the District Attorney’s Office, “the California Legislature mandated the closure of the Division of Juvenile Justice, leaving housing for minors under 16 who commit murder and other violent felonies to an established secure youth treatment facility for the minor’s rehabilitation.”
Meanwhile, the cases against Munoz and Vega, who are being tried together, are proceeding in the court system in Santa Barbara.
In November, after his preliminary hearing, Munoz was ordered to trial by Judge Clifford R. Anderson III on two counts of homicide, one count of conspiracy, one count of robbery, and numerous criminal enhancements, including that the crimes were committed for the benefit of a street gang.
Vega was ordered to trial on charges of robbery, conspiracy and enhancements, including that the crimes were gang-related.
Both were arraigned on the charges in December, and are due back in court on March 14 for a readiness-and-settlement conference.
At that hearing, Judge Brian Hill will consider motions by both men to throw out the charges, a fairly common tactic in serious criminal cases, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Hans Almgren, who is prosecuting the case.
If that is not successful, the case will return to Anderson’s courtroom and proceed toward a trial, a date for which has not been set.