Alleged MS-13 Gang Members Found Guilty of Murder
Source: Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley announced today that a Santa Barbara jury found Jose Balmore Saravia Lainez, Jose Ricardo Saravia Lainez and Jose Narciso Escobar Hernandez guilty of multiple first-degree murder charges with special circumstances, conspiracy to murder and gang conspiracy charges. This trial was the second of two trials involving the prosecution of 10 MS-13 gang members who committed nine murders and conspiracies to murder fourteen additional victims in the cities of Santa Maria and Oxnard in 2015-2016. The first trial against five separate defendants concluded in April 2022, where a Santa Maria jury found Luis German Mejia Orellana, Juan Carlos Urbina Serrano, Marcos Manuel Sanchez Torres, Tranquilino Robles Morales, and Juan Carlos Lozano Membreno guilty of the murders of the same nine victims and the conspiracy to murder 14 victims.
The Santa Maria Police Department’s investigation, led by detectives Michael Huffman and Scott Casey, began in 2015 when there were an unprecedented number of homicides in the City of Santa Maria. The investigation continued into early 2016 after four more homicides and 6 attempted homicides. On March 3, 2016, the defendants’ killing spree ended when the Santa Maria Police Department arrested the defendants, with the assistance of teams from Oxnard Police Department, Lompoc Police Department, Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office, San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office, ATF and FBI. In July 2016, a criminal grand jury indicted 12 defendants on 50 counts – including murder with special circumstances, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder and gang conspiracy.
Ten defendants asserted their right to a jury trial. The Santa Barbara Superior Court split the trial into two groups of five defendants in late 2019. The first trial against five defendants began in March 2020 but after only 10 days the COVID-19 pandemic erupted putting the trial on hold, indefinitely. The first trial re-started in July 2021, led by Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen and co-counsel, Deputy District Attorney Peter Telesca. The second trial began in October 2021, led by Chief Deputy District Attorney Kelly Duncan and co-counsel, Senior Deputy District Attorney Lynmarc Jenkins.
Two juries – in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara – listened to many months of testimony from hundreds of witnesses. And after the seven year-long wait for the victims’ families and surviving victims, justice has been served. District Attorney Dudley commended the outstanding investigative work by the Santa Maria Police Department and expressed her appreciation to the prosecution team by stating, “This case was by far the most complex gang case in the State of California. This successful prosecution was possible because of the extraordinary prosecutors and other members of this office who work tirelessly to ensure that justice was served.”
Judge John McGregor sentenced each of the five trial one defendants on May 16, 2022 to a range of 313 years to life, followed by six to nine life without parole sentences. The trial two three defendant case will be sentenced on July 26, 2022 at 8:30 a.m. in Department 11 of the Santa Barbara Superior Court. Each defendant faces multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole.