Santa Maria jury convicts 5 in U-Haul murder trial
April 8, 2015
A Santa Maria jury delivered first-degree murder convictions to five of six defendants who stood trial for the killing of a 28-year-old man that allegedly occurred as retribution for a drug debt. [Lompoc Record]
Ramon Maldonado, 39, David Maldonado, 57, Reyes Gonzales, 44, Santos Sauceda, 35, and Jason Castillo, 31, all face mandatory minimum sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole. A mistrial was declared for the sixth defendant, Anthony Solis, 30, but he later pleaded guilty to kidnapping.
In March 2013, several gang members allegedly killed Anthony Ibarra in a Santa Maria home and dumped his naked body in a U-haul truck, which authorities found in an Orcutt residential neighborhood. Prosecutors say the murder occurred because Ibarra did not pay a drug tax owed to their gang and because he stole drugs from the gang to sell on his own.
A second trial in the case will occur for a 16-year-old who is related to two of the defendants convicted Tuesday. 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.
Prior to the main trial, four other defendants agreed to plead deals.
All five of those convicted of first-degree murder received an enhancement for murder in the commission of a kidnapping. Ramon Maldonado also received an enhancement of murder with the infliction of torture.
As part of the plea deal reached Tuesday, Solis also received a gang enhancement. Solis faces nine years in prison, rather than life behind bars, because of the mistrial in his case.
Eight jurors voted to convict Solis of murder while four found him not guilty.
Defense attorneys argued that none of the defendants had anything to do with the Ibarra murder, and the actual killer has not been charged. The defense also argued that prosecutors relied on testimony from witnesses who were not credible.
One witness who testified that she heard the murder from her home admitted during cross-examination that she was high on methamphetamine before, during and after the killing. Other key witnesses were also methamphetamine users.
Due to public fears, the court has chosen to omit the names of jurors from trial records. During jury selection, more than 1,000 Santa Barbara County residents summoned specifically for the murder trial did not appear in court when called upon.