U-Haul murder trial trudges on in Santa Maria
January 27, 2015
A multi-month murder trial in Santa Maria has moved into its third week of testimony as prosecutors continue to make their case that six gang members murdered and tortured a 28-year-old man in retribution for a drug debt.
Six defendants are currently standing trial for the March 2013 killing of Anthony Ibarra and face a host of charges including first-degree murder. Several gang members allegedly killed Ibarra at a Santa Maria home and dumped his naked body in a U-haul truck because he did not pay a drug tax owed to their gang and he stole drugs from the gang to sell on his own.
A court will separately try a 16-year-old defendant in the case. The 16-year-old, Ramon Maldonado, Jr., is the son of Ramon “Crazy Ray” Maldonado, the alleged ringleader in the murder, and the grandson of David Maldonado, another defendant.
Four other defendants have already agreed to plea deals.
Fear of retaliation from Santa Maria gangs has reduced some public participation in the trial. More than 1,000 Santa Barbara County residents summoned for jury duty specifically for the murder trial did not appear in court when called upon.
Due to public fears, the court has chosen to omit the names of jurors from trial records. A judge also issued an order to media not to publish images of witnesses.
Key witnesses who have already testified include Angel Escobar and his sister, Marissa Escobar. Testimony has indicated that Marissa Escobar coaxed Ibarra, on behalf of Crazy Ray Maldonado, into coming to the Santa Maria home where the murder occurred.
Angel Escobar testified that he was inside the house while the defendants killed Ibarra. He said that he could hear Ibarra crying while a mob beat him.
Another witness testified that she could hear the murder from her neighboring home. Under cross-examination, though, she admitted to being high on methamphetamine before, during and after the killing.
Defense attorney also pointed to the fact that the Escobars, too, are admitted methamphetamine users.
The trial is expected to last through February. It is taking place at Santa Maria Juvenile Hall, where testimony begins at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday.